Author Justin Taylor Discusses The Limitations of Tetris
October 04, 2010
Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever is Justin Taylor's debut collection of stories. When it came out, the Times said that Taylor's collection, "documents a deep authority on the unavoidable confusion of being young, disaffected, and-human." At the same time of "documenting a deep authority", the fifteen stories in the collection showcase themes that range from the cosmology of young adulthood, to modern day eschatologies. But if that's not your style, there's enough pop-culture to have you checking wikipedia after every story. Check it out amigos.
Everything here is a collection loaded with musical allusions with references to the Grateful Dead, Seventeen, Will Oldham, Snapcase, the Pixies. In other interviews you've even provided a playlist for the collection. What sort of parallels exist between the order of a short story collection and the track listing for an album? What sort of thought went into the order of the short stories in this collection, and could you identify the singles, ballads, etc. within the collection?
This is a great question. I’m not a musician, so I can’t speak to how albums are put together, but I imagine that the processes must be similar. Actually, in the introduction to a book I edited a few years ago, a fiction anthology called The Apocalypse Reader, I described the arrangement as having mix-tape logic. But curating other people’s work is not remotely the same experience as trying to arrange your own.
Certain themes in the book are touched on multiple times, and certain locales (South Florida, New York City) are the settings for multiple stories. Two of the stories feature the same characters. I tried to arrange the stories in such a way as to highlight their differences and contrasts—especially in terms of length and tone—so that the re-appearance of major themes or places would hopefully register as echoes, reprises, or re-considerations, rather than simply as a symptom of repetition compulsion.
I guess In My Heart I Am Already Gone is the big single—my first agent wanted to name the whole book for it. It didn’t exactly top the charts, but it does seem to be the story I get the most positive feedback about. I just found out it was long-listed in Best American Non-Required Reading 2010, which is I guess like almost “charting,” if we’re still trying to make that analogy work. You could think of The New Life as a ballad; it’s very much about longing and loss. Weekend Away is like the really weird deep cut that only the hardcore fans like. I don’t know that I have any hardcore fans—but if I did, they’d spend a lot of time explaining to the other fans why that story is the key to understanding my work. I’m not sure that my imaginary hardcore fans would be right about that, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they’d say.
Reading and rereading Tetris, I couldn't help but admire the dichotomy between the narrator's attitudes toward tetris and the apocalypse. The narrator has nothing but apathy for the apocalypse, but he is totally arrested by Tetris. Why Tetris? In some ways I get it. The game is eternal. It has no kill screen. It is eternal. (Just found out that if you beat tetris the Kremlin shows up with a rocket launching) What qualities exist in this game that do not exist in Zelda, Super Mario etc.
It’s not what Tetris has that makes it interesting, but rather what it lacks. Zelda and Mario, just to use your two examples, are both character-based games with some semblance of a narrative. I’m a huge fan of the Zelda series, especially Link to the Past for SNES and Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64. I’ve played each of those games start to finish several times over. But the narrator in Tetris isn’t interested in grand narratives—that’s part of the reason he refuses to consider the Bible his girlfriend pores over, and also why he attempts to "reject" the apocalypse narrative unfolding all around him. What he likes about Tetris is that it’s utterly devoid of context, as well as any content beyond the colored shape-blocks and the scoreboard. Until the Kremlin shows up, I guess, which would have actually been a nice image for the story, but I don’t think of that as a YOU WIN screen. You get that screen when you lose with a high score. Or maybe, I’ve just never gotten far enough along to see the YOU WIN screen. Like my narrator, once it gets to about level 22 or so, I just lose my shirt.
What is your earliest library memory?
I don’t know exactly, but it must have been early on. My parents were very big on the library when I was growing up. I always checked as many books out as I could.
Do you have a favorite library?
I live in New York City, and we are blessed with some amazing libraries. The main branch of the public library, at Bryant Park, is a wonderful place. Just being inside the building is a privilege. I don’t go there as much as I probably should. And this semester, I’m teaching at Columbia, so I have access to their library, which is similarly magnificent: the building, the collections, the whole thing.
South Independence Branch