“I went through a stage where I would walk into whatever room my father was in and turn the lights off. I never told anybody why, but I was trying to make him disappear.”

Michael Kimball’s father is dead, and so is Daniel Todd Carrier’s. Big Ray, Kimball’s fourth novel, uses hundreds of brief entries to artfully and empathetically explore the loss of a father—in particular, one who wasn’t very good; one who was, in fact, appalling. Begun as a memoir, Kimball turned it towards fiction because he wanted “more control over how it was told, a fiction writer’s prerogative,” and the result is a story clearly set in the truth of a writer who lived this relationship in all of its ugly, dark recesses. Hinged on the border between love and hate, between redemption and condemnation, Big Ray is a tremendously beautiful novel that tackles death and obesity and child abuse and forgiveness from a strikingly new perspective.

It’s always a joy to sit down and talk with Michael Kimball. He’s into his cats, he plays softball (and is quite competitive!), he likes music, and he wears interesting T-shirts that make you want to scoot your chair back so you can get a good look. BIG RAY is Michael’s fourth book and, I think, his most intimate and moving. Whereas his other novels (Us, The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody) all deal with loss of some sort, and are touching and powerful, BIG RAY emotionally dives down to a whole new level. You can’t help but be somewhat changed after reading this book.

Here’s what Michael Kimball has to say about BIG RAY:

Released in early 2012 from Tyrant Books–the brainchild that brought us Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, Eugene Marten’s Firework, and Michael Kimball’s Us–Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People is a sketchbook drawn through a poetic gloryhole. It is a violent, raging, and brutal book, yet also houses subtle moments of massive and quiet weight. But what is Life Is with People? In a recent posting on Vice, Tyrant kingpin Giancarlo DiTrapano described it this way:

It seems as though everyone is talking about Michael Kimball and his new newly released novel, US.  Sam Lipsyte calls Kimball a “Hero of contemporary fiction.”  Blake Butler says US is one of only two books that ever made him cry.  And Gary Lutz says that Kimball is “One of our most supremely gifted and virtuosic renderers of the human predicament.” 

US might break your heart, but it’s a good kind of break-the kind that reminds you how nice it is to be alive.


Dear Mom and Dad,

I didn’t know that I was two weeks late and that you were waiting for me. But it always made me feel special to know that Ingham County had to send a snowplow out to our house. It always made me feel special to think of Dad driving the car so slowly behind the snowplow and Mom with her hands on top of her stomach as if I were an important, but breakable, package. I always thought that there was some important destiny in that for me. I always thought that the path that was cleared through all of that cold and snow was somehow going to determine the rest of my life.

Why are you a writer?

It happened by accident. I grew up in an ungrammatical family. There weren’t many books in the house, mostly just the Lansing State Journal.

I’ve written recently about the (potentially) unfortunate necessity of promoting yourself as an author these days. My own basic take on this situation is that the best way to promote yourself also happens not to be the kind of boorish and/or slimy stuff you think about when using the word “promotion.”

Rather, by taking a sincere interest in the community of writers/artists/whoever around you, by engaging with that community via participation in social forums, attendance at readings/events–essentially by speaking up and being a person–you can create a social context within which your own work has meaning. Really, it’s a stupidly simple attitude and perspective shift that can help you avoid despair, or at least some of it.

Anyway, someone who’s way ahead of the game with this kind of stuff is the author/filmmaker Michael Kimball. I recommend taking a look at his blog to see what kinds of projects he involves himself in and/or invents–it’s both inspiring and plain cool. One of the projects he’s gotten a lot of attention for (NPR interview included) is called The Life Story Project.