When I was writing my book, Brutes, there came a point where I wanted to be thinking about it even when I was so tired of it I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. I was also terrified of leaving it alone, like the book would forget me if I stopped reminding it I was there. I was lost, needy, desperate for guidance! The books below all contained the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create in my book; books that hover between simple and strange, that show the derangement of reality without crossing fully into the surreal, that are so honest they can’t help being funny, that are interested in the mystery of people, that gesture towards something that cannot be articulated, that seek to shed a little light or at least describe a darkness perfectly. And all of them have sentences so good I wanted to read them aloud afterward, like singing along to a good song. They’re books that make my brain spark, thinking, oh I want to try and make something like this, too.
by Marilynne Robinson
This is the novel I reread the most, at least once a year, and I use it as a warm-up sometimes to begin writing, to try and get my thoughts working in her masterful rhythm. The sentences are beautiful — every word seems to have a perfect weight that makes the meaning all the more dazzling. Cold and clean and strange. And Ruth, the narrator, is a watcher like the characters in my book. Most narrators are watchers, some know it and some don’t. The ones who know it and cultivate it, are addicted to and afraid of watching; I always feel a kinship with them.
Dangers of Smoking in Bed
by Mariana Enriquez (tr. Megan McDowell)
Gothic, gorgeous, fearless, and frightening: I love the stories in this book. Particularly “Our Lady in the Quarry,” which takes the choral nature of girlhood and turns it into both a plea and a roar.
by Joy Williams
These two collections completely changed me as a writer. I got a second-hand copy of Taking Care when I was twenty-one, and it was all I read for months. “The Yard Boy,” “Breakfast,” “The Last Generation,” “The Lover,” and “Health” are particular favorites. “Health” is one I went back to frequently when writing Brutes. It very accurately captures the disorienting feeling when it hits you that the world is an unstable place, one that you do not understand and which does not understand you. Joy Williams also captures Florida as I remember it in her stories: mysterious, edgy, deranged, slow, isolated, shallow, ancient.
The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides
I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager. It captures perfectly the plastic beauty and wild rot of life in America; it’s hilarious and absurd and devastating.
The Member of the Wedding
by Carson McCullers
This book always makes me cry! The purity and meanness of Frankie’s longing. To want something so much and to feel so alone in it. The truest child narrator I’ve ever read.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
A Florida novel with sentences so good they break my heart: “He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”
The Wind that Lays Waste
by Selma Alvada (tr. Chris Andrews)
I read this during lockdown for the first time on the recommendation of a friend; it reads like a match flare, a sudden illumination. Gorgeous and desolate. Concerned with the soul.
by Denis Johnson
Sentences that move so quick yet stop you in your tracks with their beauty.
by Alice Munro
I love all of Alice Munro, but this book feels the most familiar to me, about the accidents and failures and sacrifices of love. "Passion" is one I return to frequently,
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
by Lorrie Moore
Nothing is better or more familiar on the sparkling brilliance and banality of a friendship between two girls; all songs and bad jokes and weird snacks.
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Dizz Tate has had short stories published in Granta
, The Stinging Fly
and The Tangerine
, amongst others. Brutes is her first novel.