…Or, why you need to know who Graham Tugwell is.
I first learned about Graham Tugwell when I was putting together Anobium’s first volume (now sold out, suckers). All I knew at that point was that Tugwell was Irish and that the one story he sent me was so perfectly macabre that the most I had to do to it, as an editor, was fix a few comma splices. The story was some kind of bizarro fairy tale with a heavy dose of S&M and loaded with visceral prose (but not like that shitty book by that one super-hip dude who writes for Vice). It’s the kind of story where nobody lives happily ever after, but it also arouses some kind of sadistic pleasure where you’re somehow okay with bad things happening (in his other stories, children get killed, people get abused, religious icons are defiled, cults perform bizarre rituals, and other delights occur). Somehow, through mere language, Tugwell has created a Wonka-esque world, dominated by madness and pandemonium, and a fresh breath of dark, dark, dark humor dangerously missing from the fiction world—and the real world, too.
And it’s a shame you haven’t heard of him. He’s super prolific, and his new self-published book, Everything is Always Wrong, finally puts some of his best stories together in one place. My only complaint? It’s not long enough. (But that’s the thing with Tugwell. He writes so bloody much (if I might borrow some of that brogue) that his stories could be turned into, like, ten thick short story collections. I know this because I’ve read some of his lengthier manuscripts that made me wish Anobium had enough capital to help bring that stuff to the real world. So, other publishers, if you’re reading this, fucking get on it. There’s a goldmine here.)
Everything is Always Wrong begins with a short list of rules, which I’ll quote here in full, because it’ll give you an idea of what Tugwell is all about:
First: learn the rules
1) There is No God
2) Love is Impossible
3) The Universe is Malign
Now off you go
That’s all he gives you as he sends you off into his world. And that’s all you need. Even if these truths are unpleasant, they’re still truths (at least in the Tugwellian universe), and they’re ‘certain’ as such. Which is to say, even in the chaos of the five stories in this short little collection, you’re still on solid ground—kind of like how madness has its own logic. Except, I’m not sure if what Tugwell writes is as mad as it is…bedeviled? demented? batty? on point?
Tugwell’s writing is a lot like Kevin Barry‘s, another Irishman with dark wit. What’s refreshing about writers of this ilk—the Tugwell, Barry, et al ilk—is that there’s no detectable hyperintellectual pretense here; this obsession with form, or genre, or any of that ridiculous set of ‘problems’ the Academic world likes to impose on the rhetorical process. Tugwell’s writing is, for lack of a better term, good clean fun. It’s the sandlot baseball (or cricket?) of contemporary short fiction. That is, it’s not actually calling itself ‘contemporary short fiction.’ It’s just stories, plain and simple. Tugwell refers to himself as a: “Bon Vivant. Raconteur. Outrageous Coward.” It’s posturing, in a sense, but with a dervish’s sense of abandon/Abaddon. You’re not going to find this in any MFA program.
I don’t think Everything is Always Wrong will be the book that changes Tugwell’s career, but I think it’s a book that should be read by people who want something different, politically incorrect, and truly unique (I don’t use adverbs lightly, except for ‘lightly’). I look forward to hearing more from Tugwell, making nightmares out of cartoons, and cartoons out of nightmares—and getting pleasure from your pain. Buy his book here.
(Also, we still have some copies of Anobium: Volume 2, which also features a story from Tugwell.)