JR: I met Riley after I inquired about his book, Our Beloved 26. He had done a reading with Patrick DeWitt, who is a friend of the blog. Riley seemed like a no bullshit guy, which was refreshing, to say the least. Once we started this series of guest posts, When We Fell In Love, I thought he would be perfect for it. -JR
RMP: I have lived my life in books, have been an avid reader since my youth, and I have been affected by so many great authors – my behavior and outlook of any given year directly corresponding to the fiction I was reading. To try and pin-point when it began would be extraneous, but there were a few authors that really shook me; that surprised me; that made me aware of what fiction is actually capable of doing.
I was a sophomore in high school when I first discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I read BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS on the advice of a librarian, and I developed an immediate crush on both the novel and the woman. I had never come across anything quite like that book, and I read it twice in a row, which is something that I never do. Everything was so small, so tight, and so deliberate, with each little section functioning as a short story… It was like going to a restaurant, and instead of being presented with a meal, my dinner was brought out from the kitchen bite by bite. I had never known that stories could be told that way. I felt, after reading it the first time, like I had just read a book where nothing happened, but I loved it. I knew there was so much going on in those pages, but when I tried to tell people about it I discovered there was nothing I could say that could make the book sound appealing. I read it again to try and figure out what I had missed, and I found that I hadn’t missed anything. It was then that I realized that it is the writing and the voice behind a novel, not the plot, that makes it work.
Bret Easton Ellis was my next big love, starting when I was nineteen. Before delving into RULES OF ATTRACTION and LESS THAN ZERO, I had never read a novel about people that the author himself did not care for. I can’t remember which of the two I read first, because it was one after the other, but I remember making it twenty or so pages in before I realized that Ellis was being funny, that the writing was full of sharp, biting jokes with these little slivers of punchlines, so I had to go back and start the novel again. I like when artists explore cruelty in their work, and selfishness, and apathy, and those things are Ellis’ bread and butter. It took me a few years before I was ready to take on AMERICAN PSYCHO, but that book really is his crowning achievement. I can usually get through a book in two or three days, but that novel took me well over three weeks. I have never had to put something down so many times, shocked and disgusted. Also, I laughed a lot, even when I didn’t want to. I will love him, and his first few books, forever and ever.
Brautigan was the big one though, who I discovered when I was twenty-two. I ended up back in my home town, watching my father’s house for the summer because there had been a few break-ins and he thought that having someone there would detour the hopefully non-violent thieves. I’m from a tiny little place in the California mountais, and there is nothing to do there but read and write and paint (and fuck and smoke meth and break into empty houses, but I’m a square), so I spent all of my time doing just that. I read thirty-seven books that summer, and a few graphic novels – and some cereal boxes and Jesus pamphlets, I’m sure, because I was hard-up for entertainment and would read anything I could get my hands on. There were three great things about that summer, which were JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE by Jincy Willet, COSMOS by Witold Gombrowicz, and Richard fucking Brautigan. It started with WILLARD AND HIS BOWLING TROPHIES, and then it was THE ABORTION, and then REVENGE OF THE LAWN, all of which I have read again, which is something I so rarely do. Richard Brautigan is my favorite author, hands down. He surprises me every time I read his text – with his humor, and his sadness, and his ability to construct beautiful stories from nonsensical sentences.
But Brautigan is dead, and so is Vonnegut, and Ellis isn’t writing much these days (he’s involved in film now, I think)… Yet I still find myself in love, and falling in love, nearly every day. I fall in love with Zachary Schomburg, and Chelsea Martin, and Leonard Michaels (also dead, but only recently discovered), and Gary Lutz, and Miranda July, and so on, and so on. I don’t know when it first happened, but I am in love, and as time passes I keep finding more and more reasons to stay that way.
JR: Of the many things Riley is working on, you can read these: OUR BELOVED 26TH (Future Tense), WHEN SHE COMES HOME (Mud Luscious Press, February 2010).