Learning from Literati: An Evening with with Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson shared his works and experiences with UC San Diego students and faculty in an evening full of dark humor.

Brian Evenson, an award-winning fiction writer, kicked off Spring Quarter 2018’s New Writing Series with readings from three of his works on April 11 in the Seuss Room at Geisel Library. Evenson, who came sporting a “Das Boot” t-shirt and a mini Santa Claus beard, is known for his writing’s beautifully dark humor, which was prominently showcased in his three selections. Evenson captivated the audience, representing the charm, wit, and humor in his writing through his live reading. To listen to Evenson read from his own works and hear his insights from his experience as a writer in the following Q&A was an unforgettable and immense honor.

The first reading came from Evenson’s book “Reports,” a short collection of accounts of everyday events. “Report on Lemons,” according to Evenson, plays with fiction and nonfiction, what is real and what is not. “Lemons” is an account of a man who is frustrated with his ex-girlfriend for supposedly taking their three lemon reamers following their breakup. Evenson’s narration of the following “Report on a Report on Lemons” was witty and unrelentingly hilarious, as the man comes to confront the perplexing reality of the lemon reamers he has constructed in his memory — how many lemon reamers there were to begin with and the bearings they have on his own relationship with his ex.

Following the excerpt from “Reports” was Evenson’s reading of the titular short story from his 2016 book “A Collapse of Horses: Stories.” This short story features another man who stays at home following a work-related injury, but is wrestling with his inability to determine a variety of factors in his perception of reality. He is unable to definitively say how many children he has, his house is constantly changing, and there is a mysterious group of horses collapsed on a field near his house. “Collapse of Horses” takes a much darker turn than what Evenson presented with his “Report” but still maintains his dark humor along with the audience’s intermittent laughter throughout his reading.

The final story, titled “Born Stillborn,” was an unpublished short story, which Evenson admitted to, as with any of his unpublished stories, being reluctant to read. Following the thematic trends of the previous two readings, “Stillborn” features a man named Haupt reconciling the inconsistencies in the paradoxical relationship with his morning and night therapists. As Haupt attempts to piece the fragments of this relationship together, the questions of reality — whether the night therapist actually exists, or if the two are in fact twins and one “born stillborn” — become more and more complicated.

Altogether, Evenson’s Kafka-esque selections were delightful both in their content and their delivery. There was a kind of playful jest between Evenson and the audience, as he led us through the winding narrations of each of his stories. Evenson, fully aware of the perplexities in his stories and the way their near-horror themes warp the audience’s perceptions of reality, spoke in soft, careful tones that assumed the naivete of his own audience. Even as his plots lead to the surreal, and as readers and listeners surrender themselves to the characters’ distorted realities, Evenson’s sly humor persists, presenting itself at the most chilling turns in his selections.

Image Courtesy of NPR

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