Veering Wildly

Kirsty Gunn

The most interesting novels are always a bit strange. The stories bend and shift with the author’s own predilections; they reject the predictable progress of conventional plotlines in favour of something that feels more risky and open-ended. They often go off the rails, these books, veering into the wide open spaces of the contingent and unexpected, in defiance of the kind of fiction designed to match outcome with expectation. Less known here than in the US, where she’s gathered up all sorts of prizes for stories that Raymond Carver described as ‘unlike any in our literature’, Jayne Anne Phillips has always written this way. Her writing territory, though recognisably American (she appeared in the 1983 issue of Granta that introduced a new kind of writing from the US that the then editor Bill Buford labelled ‘dirty realism’, taking in Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Bobbi Ann Mason and so on), has always belonged to her and her alone. ‘For me,’ she has written, this ‘no man’s land, a deeply specific isolation drenched in family stories and secrets, is a huge advantage for a writer.’

You are not logged in