Seyward Goodhand’s debut short fiction collection Even That Wildest Hope (Invisible Publishing) packs a punch. Witty, genre-bending, and always full to the brim with compassion and superb intelligence, these stories mark the entrance of a fierce new talent onto the CanLit stage.
Seyward Goodhand’s debut short fiction collectionEven That Wildest Hope (Invisible Publishing) packs a punch. Witty, genre-bending, and always full to the brim with compassion and superb intelligence, these stories mark the entrance of a fierce new talent onto the CanLit stage.
Quill & Quire calls the collection “10 complex, determinedly fabulous stories [that] impress for sheer quirky inventiveness” while PRISM international says the stories “stunningly, skillfully unveils the better and the worse of keeping human.”
Seyward Goodhand grew up in Hastings County and the North York suburb of Newmarket. Her work has been shortlisted for the McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and a National Magazine Award and long-listed for the CBC Short Story Prize. Her award winning stories have appeared in Found Press, Riddle Fence, Cosmonauts Avenue, subTerrain, PRISM international, Grain, and Dragnet. She is a PhD student in English at the University of Toronto, and lives Winnipeg where she is a sessional instructor of academic writing.
Trevor Corkum: Even That Wildest Hope is such an incredible and surprising collection. Definitely sui generis—unlike anything I’ve read for awhile. A real mix of sci-fi, literary hijinks, myth. For someone unfamiliar with your writing, how would you describe it?
Seyward Goodhand: Thank you, Trevor. It’s very nice to chat. Yes, how would I describe it, especially when the point is that I don’t know. I like to draw things together that are normally separate. Past and future, minds and bodies, objects and the space around them, imagination and confession. I like to blur categories, times, palettes, play with genre. Partially it’s that I think this reflects a reality that is actually porous. And partially it creates an emotional looseness that lets me at least hope I might explore new registers of thought and feeling.
TC:One of the aspects I love most about the collection is the incredible amount of risk you take with the writing. The stories are so complex and daring, emotionally and stylistically. What do you look for when you write? And what makes a story great, in your opinion?
SG: I aim for sincerity. The emotion can be enthusiasm, playfulness, curiosity, sadness, sado-masochism, humiliation, tenderness, so long as the feeling is real. The older I get the more I value this quality in what I read. It’s related to tone, temperature, humour, commitment, intensity. The personality of a piece. Difficult to point to because not exactly technical. Remembering a story and wanting to be around it again. I love precision and attention to structure but if something is too well-composed or too tight it feels less alive because the living thing is always passed back and forth, reformed, has the rug pulled out from under it, is imperfect. I like it when a story isn’t world-weary or repressed. Loving, dark, complex, self-aware, thoughtful, curious, warm. Happy to exist, curious about the subtle, playful ways it might extend its existence. Honestly, I could be describing a person.
I love precision and attention to structure but if something is too well-composed or too tight it feels less alive because the living thing is always passed back and forth, reformed, has the rug pulled out from under it, is imperfect.
TC:Reading the stories, I detect hints and flavours of so many writers I admire: Karen Russell, George Saunders, Jim Shepard, Carmen Maria Machado, Zsuzsi Gartner. Who are some of the writers who have and continue to influence you?
SG: All of the ones you mention at one point or another, plus a long list of others. Many writers still living and also Isak Dinesen, Eudora Welty, Kobe Abe, Donald Barthelme, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Derek Walcott, Shirley Jackson, Charlie Chaplin movies, Roberto Bolaño, more. I’m drawn to work that on the one hand has layers of irony because it’s a thing that’s made up and is asking you to come in and see what it’s like in here, but on the other hand does not treat its character in a condescending way—fully inhabits its character, even a naïve or immoral one. I prefer slapstick and the absurd to satire because the character is brilliant. Acrobatic, clever, passionate. You don’t look down on the Tramp, you look up to him. I think the feeling of looking up to or fully inhabiting a despairing or violent character (Raskolnikov or Anna Wulf) is so unsettling and takes you to your limit of internalized shame and disgust. I like things that produce this dangerous feeling of anarchic potential and free-falling because I think this is where real morality comes from. Not from the laws we’ve internalized.
TC:“Enkidu” is one of my favourites. It’s a mythical, queer, and ultimately heartbreaking tale about Enkidu’s friendship with the complicated, power-hungry, lovesick and lonely Gilgamesh. What’s the genesis for “Enkidu”?
I’m so glad you like this one. It took me a long time. I was teaching The Epic of Gilgamesh as a TA and the similarity of its problems to ours shocked me. Technological brilliance leading almost fatalistically to tyranny, severing of human beings from nature, the imperialism, the giddy excitement for growth and discovery, the loneliness and fear of death that can lead us to deny this world. The fear of shame—we’ll do anything to not feel ashamed. I read all the Mesopotamian literature I could get and The Code of Hammurabi, made pages of word lists and tried to work from those. The last four thousand years started to feel like the same episode. Gilgamesh’s logic is the logic of capitalism: if you’re able to get it, you have the right to as much of whatever it is you want. It comes down to forming distinctions between what is in the walls and what is outside. Even four thousand years ago the scribe who wrote the epic is saying to this mythological power figure: the only way to end your tyranny is to end this distinction, which will also mean resigning yourself to death.
Well, I wanted to explore the process of coming into this divided word. The wild-man, Enkidu, is created to save Gilgamesh from his alienation. He can do this because he’s the only person on earth who is Gilgamesh’s equal. The hypothesis is that real love is impossible wherever one person has legal authority. This means that for most of human history, in the vast, vast majority of social relations including marriage between men and women, real love has been impossible. I’m still obsessed with the problems of Gilgamesh. I think they’re the problems of our species.
TC:“The Parachute” is another stunner. It imagines a meeting between intellectual and resistance fighter Simone Weil and the German propaganda film maker Leni Riefenstahl during the height of World War II. Both are such compelling historical figures, and you render their inner lives with depth and spiky humour. Tell us more about this story, and the journey you travelled to execute your creative vision.
SG: Thank you, Trevor. I was doing this project with my friend Liz Harmer where we’d assign each other a task and take a week to complete it. The task was to write a story in an omniscient voice, only it took me longer than a week. I was also inspired by a Donald Barthelme story called “Cortez and Montezuma” and wanted to do something similar. Draw two antithetical historical figures into relation. Only I wanted the figures to be women because I wanted to dramatize a moral and political problem that, for a few pages, was uncomplicated by patriarchy. In that sense the story is a little utopia. But then all the problems of narcissism and cowardice and self-romanticism have to be worked out between them.
TC:What’s next for you, Seyward?
SG: Oh, I’m happy at work on a longer thing. I’d like my next book to be more personal.
Excerpt from “So I Can Win, The Galatrax Must Die”
Galatrax is a rare woodland creature. The size of an otter, it has shiny, orbed eyes, a pugnacious black snout, and a short brown tail with a tuft of white hairs thrashing out the tip. It will swim, climb, and dig for grubs. Its most idiosyncratic features are its teeth. The long, pointed canines are in the front incisor position, not in the cuspid or fang area of the jaw. The French name for the galatrax is petit morse—little walrus. It can digest nearly any organic matter it finds: grass, lily pads, weevils, hornets’ nests, carcasses at any stage of decomposition, scat. If desperate, it might pillage a nest. Like its distant relation the bear, it is a partial hibernator, sleeping in the hollow root system of a dead tree on a mattress of forbs, spruce needles, and milkweed for the months of January and February. The galatrax has the same predators as the muskrat, beaver, porcupine, and raccoon: these are coyote, wolf, lynx, and, if starving, fox.
Galatrae are beloved by culture. There is a popular series of picture books starring a quiet but bold family of galatrae, there are teddy galatrae, wall stencils of galatrae, and other paraphernalia. In clement seasons, galatrae will live close to humans, in the woodpiles outside of cottages. They adore the scent of warm spices; if you desire a sighting, make satchels filled with cloves and leave them about your garden. You may train a galatrax to take nuts from your hand.
Galatrax has a gamy taste. The meat is not as lean as chicken or bison, but only healthy nutrients saturate the blubber. Because the fat is nutritional, your body wishes to discard it. Remember: toxic fat is, in a classically tragic paradox, the hardest to lose. Your body is very attached to its pollutants. Even if you ate an infinite number of galatrae, your body, after digesting only the amount necessary to sustain life, will void the excess. Gorge all day: pounds will depart, muscles swell, veins protrude. Galatrax is one of the miraculous superfoods of our age.
Unfortunately, in order for the galatrax’s beneficial properties to be actuated, it must be eaten raw, while living.
You sedate the galatrax first, of course, with a natural ginger compound. But if you’re really serious, you may purchase a large glass hibernator to put in your kitchen, garage, or basement. The hibernator is a transparent cube with a sophisticated ventilation system on one side that lowers the temperature and oxygen content of the interior, while misting it with a steady stream of hydrogen sulphide. Do not keep more than fourteen galatrae in the hibernator at one time—enough for a week. Expect the area to smell vaguely of rotten eggs.