Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Which Brings Me to Steve: On Reading Steve Almond

by John Sheedy

I can’t remember where I first encountered Steve Almond’s fiction, but that first taste left me hungering for more. I got my sweaty hands on My Life in Heavy Metal, Mr. Almond’s first story collection and eagerly read it. The book had been criticized for containing too much sex, as if such a thing was possible, but I found it, like Mama Bear’s porridge, to be just right. In short order I read, The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories, Mr. Almond’s second collection, and devoured Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. “On the Road” for chocoholics, Candyfreak describes Mr. Almond’s travels in search of the offbeat candy makers who toil in the shadow of Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s.

I admired Mr. Almond’s flamboyant use of language, the way he pushed the boundaries of metaphor, and his relentless refusal to take the world and himself seriously. Reading Steve Almond inspired me to be more adventurous in my own writing and to take myself a little less seriously.

Then I read Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions written with Julianna Baggott, in which a thirty-something couple recount their former love affairs in a series of letters. It is Mr. Almond’s and Ms. Baggott’s compassion for their protagonists, their warm embrace of each character’s follies and foibles that elevate the letters above mere pillow gossip. Mr. Almond, who has said that he loves writing sex scenes, is particularly adept at elucidating the pungent, viscous, tactile realities of sex, teasing out the underlying comedy inherent in lovemaking, without ever allowing the desperate groping, grasping, and fumbling of his characters to slip over the line into caricature or threaten the frontiers of good taste. I loved it. I wanted to grow up to be just like Steve Almond.

John Sheedy graduated from Syracuse University, and is a current 2nd year DWC PRO student in fiction. He is the rarely published author of short stories and enjoys good fellowship as much as the next man.

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