Glen Pourciau's second collection of stories, View, was published in 2017 by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Epoch, Little Star, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, and others.
His story,"Beer," appeared in Issue Ninety-Five of The Rupture.
Here, he speaks with interviewer Dana Diehl about writing from experience, discussing politics in fiction, and writing process.
What first prompted you to write your story, "Beer"? Where did it begin for you?
I typically start a story by writing in a notebook. Sometimes I write lines of dialogue, sometimes I hear a voice, sometimes I'm listening to the noise in my head and trying to understand where it comes from. I read and reread these sentences and look for form and signs of life. Things I hear and see in daily life are included in these notes, and I often write about mundane situations and encounters. In the case of "Beer," there was an overpriced beer at a restaurant, just as in the story. Like Benny in the story, I'd been going to the same primary-care doctor for many years, and after I turned 65 I called to make an appointment for my annual checkup. I was told that my doctor did not accept Medicare, nor did anyone else in the practice. My wife had a primary-care doctor who was part of a large network, and I called to see if I could find a doctor there who accepted Medicare. None of their primary-care doctors did. The person on the phone referred me to a clinic in town that accepted Medicare. I booked it, showed up, and the first thing the doctor said was the exact line in the story. "What's wrong with you?" I decided not to take a deeper view of that question and said, "Nothing." Within the next half minute, the doctor looked straight at me, standing close, and asked: "Democrat or Republican?" Like Benny, I replied, "Is that a healthcare issue these days?" The question stuck with me. I don't usually get into politics in my stories, and I worried that with time the question would sound dated. In my opinion, that has not happened yet.
On a surface level, this is a story about a man who's upset about the inflated price of beer at a favorite restaurant. But this storyline becomes a means through which to explore his unhappiness with the current political climate. How can it be useful, narratively, to approach "big" topics by focusing instead on the mundane?
I am an internal writer, and my stories don't elaborate on huge social forces or have large casts of characters. In "Beer," I'm touching on a "big" topic but showing its impact on an individual. I feel the most recent presidential election in my daily life more than I have any other, and it affects the way I see people, the way I react in conversation, and to any references to politics. Most people I know fear bringing up national politics because the subject threatens to trigger uncivil discussion. Politics imbues and burdens the mundane. One lasting effect of the election is that I realize how little I understand people, after a lifetime of trying. My awareness of my failure of understanding has only grown since then. Our viewpoints are as different as our fingerprints. It's overwhelming to think about this.
This story is mostly about Benny, but it's told from the view of his spouse. Why did you make this choice in perspective?
In Benny's case, I could get inside his head, but the story seemed to have more life viewing him from the outside. I liked the idea of him talking to himself out loud, the inside spilling outward. His wife hears him and tries to come to terms with his agitation. She is a witness, and the reader witnesses both of them. His closing question: "What gets into people?" could be a question she would ask about him. An involved witness as narrator puts some air into the story but keeps it intimate.
Do you have any new creative projects in the works? What have you been up to since this piece was published back in 2018?
I am always writing stories. Four Way Books will publish my third story collection in 2021. My wife, Linda, and I have recently moved from Plano, Texas to Galveston, Texas, her hometown.
What has been inspiring you lately? Is there an author (or artist, or musician, or director) who you're currently excited about?
I've been reading So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munchby Karl Ove Knausgaard. It helps to read this book at a computer so you can look up the images Knausgaard discusses. He interviews other artists about Munch's influence on their work, and his way of talking about art, form, and point of view applies well to writing. I'd also recommend The Gulf: the Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis. It's a history of the Gulf of Mexico with a strong environmental perspective.