The introducer of this almanac, whom I recently met while serving on a panel (he drank Yoo-hoo and bounced one leg disconcertingly), heralded the book’s intertwined tales as “dispatches from a new, yet half-remembered universe, rising from the mist once thought mere air, combining the lightness of childhood with the stark poetry of utter desolation.” For that critic, the special pleasure of the collection derived from writing “as different in tone and substance as violin and tuba, yet congealed into a unified substance, a harmony of sympathies, like certain rains.” As far as I can tell, you hold in your hands a collection of pieces by the residents and habitués of a writers’ house founded in Brooklyn in the late aughts called the Trout House.
This volume began in the winter of 2011, when the Trouts emerged from a conversion van on Coney Island to draw slips from a jellyfish-embroidered cap each of which assigned a writer his or her own editor and editee—pulling taut among them “a cat’s cradle of story string,” presumably with cups at the ends. The rules of “Troutverse” physics were also ratified at this meeting. I have yet to discover their full scope, but one notices conspicuously more buses than spoons. The project was initially a private exercise, a child of the Trouts’ possibly-fleeting togetherness. And perhaps all art starts as a tantrum against disappearance, but like any true attempt, or any love child, the work became inevitably its own being.
Today, the Trout House on East 21st Street is no more. The Trouts are dispersed, some with individual book deals and renown, others sinking into obscurity and dissipation. What remains of that time and place, that literary scene, is this peculiarly placeless artifact. The stories, which vary in style from near-realism to laser meringue, and in setting from northern Africa, to a kind of liquefied Long Island, to the hammock-strung interior of your breast pocket, each stand individually. Taken together, as they leak and echo into one another, their effect is less like an itch on your back you can’t quite reach than one you satisfyingly can.
Yet do these tales and predictions constitute the kindly genius of “a Voltron-like gestalt literary hero” come to save us from new, resistant strains of solitude? Or is this volume simply a curio of a certain biographical-historical context, about which one may choose to recall, “they threw mega parties you probably went to, as did certainly I, in their frightening old mansion in Flatbush”?
I would venture at least that this almanac provides the best definition of what it means to “be” or “do” or “become” Trout. And there is a poignancy in the Trout Family aspiration to produce in actual, readable English, the feeling of having met someone long ago and lived a life beside them, through heat and squelch, and of returning to the moment of first encounter, and a sense of carrying a special knowledge of the consequence of each little shared joke, each gambit to stay up just another hour–onward again to now, a less-lonesome poltergeist of time.
“You were sick, but now you are well again. And there’s work to be done.”
—Leon Trotsky Trout