Attempts at a Life
Fiction | 5″x7″, 90 pp, pbk. | March 2007
* Featured in Time Out New York‘s “Ten great titles from underground presses”
* A Small Press Distribution Fiction Bestseller for 7 months
Operating somewhere between fiction and poetry, biography and theory, the pieces in Attempts at a Life, though nominally stories, might indeed be thought of as “attempts.” They do what lively stories do best, creating worlds of possibility, worlds filled with surprises, but rather than bring these worlds to some sort of neat conclusion, they constantly push out towards something new. In “S&M,” a marriage suffers from “the words you were always missing: sky, loft, music, dogs, pipes, puppets, war.” In “Mary Carmichael,” a woman with a pair of scissors and the need to “cut out her insatiable desire” slices “a veiled hat from a fern in a pot” and “a river out of a postbox.” Like the “experiments in found movement” one character conducts (in “Everybody’s Autobiography”), Dutton’s stories find movement wherever they turn, in every phrase and cadence, each sentence a small explosion of images and anthems and odd juxtapositions. This is writing in which the imagination (both writer’s and reader’s) is capable of producing almost anything at any moment, from a shiny penny to an alien metropolis, a burning village to a bright green bird.
responses to Attempts at a Life
Danielle Dutton executes expert, miniscule language slips that make us slide down the surface of her narratives like raindrops streaking the windows of the last un-gentrified house in an old Victorian neighborhood. . . . An important new literary voice.
—Peter Connors, Rain Taxi
In Dutton’s appropriation of the genre’s hallmarks of tone and syntax, she recontextualizes the gothic setting. The ruined estate becomes language itself. Language is the setting which allows us to dream. And as the surrealist uses of Gothic elements remind, if we can dream in this way, we might trespass into the unfamiliar, and in so doing uncover more poignant ways to attempt life. As the drama inherent within the book’s title suggests, there is a way that Dutton’s appropriations project the human drama onto the stage of the book. It’s serious, but as many dramatists celebrate: comedy orbits a dark sun. Which is to say, this is also a very funny book.
—Selah Saterstrom, American Book Review
Danielle Dutton’s stories remind me of those alluring puzzles where the pool is overflowing and emptying at the same time. Dutton’s answer? That the self is a rush of the languages of storytelling and moments of helpless intimacy, and she recalculates the lives of her numerous heroines to assert the busy and the broken.
Danielle Dutton writes with a deft explosiveness that craters the page with stunning, unsettling precision. Here “car lights like licorice whips slick the road outside the window,” there “the puffed-thumb Emma person” sways and falls, and everywhere “the firelight is orange against the midnight of the ocean.” Her marvelous, generous Attempts at a Life proves that, like Gertrude Stein, she knows how to be “at once talking and listening.“
Complete and devastating…. Dutton’s characters, and they are vivid characters, all approach the world as if it were immovable in its construction and the ways it will hurt them. The narrator of “S&M” writes, “What is it to walk away? Love treats my tongue like an oak leaf” but doesn’t walk away. She, like Madame Bovary, like Alice James, is bound by others. Even Jane Eyre, precariously tied at the rib, becomes less the recipient of a happy ending than a life dangled out to the world, incomplete.
—Adam Peterson, Octopus Magazine
A compelling, enigmatic read. Ideal for readers of the fiction and the literary essay alike, Danielle Dutton’s new book is a significant contribution to contemporary experimental writing.
—Kristina Marie Darling, Dogmatika
I would want to claim these pieces firmly as prose poems–in large part because of the way that poetry has become the big tent where everything that doesn’t fit somewhere else is welcome. . . . Dutton is certainly at home in a theoretical universe–one could discuss many of these poems–and quite profitably, I think–in terms of contemporary literary theory. However, Dutton’s work is incredibly inviting–she’s able to inhabit the insights of theory and then perform them without having to get bogged down in the sort of jargon or explanation that might deter the general reader (whoever you are). Dutton’s work is “accessible” in the best way possible. She’s working at a remarkably high level of insight while still inviting you to enjoy yourself.
—Jason Schneiderman, Coldfront
excerpts from Attempts at a Life
- “A Room with a Corpse,” in Octopus Magazine
- “Alice James” and “Hester Prynne,” in Double Room
- “Portrait of a Lady” in 5_trope
- “S&M,” in Tarpaulin Sky
about the author
Danielle Dutton is also the author of S P R A W L (Siglio Press), which was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. In 2010, Dutton launched her own independent press Dorothy, a publishing project, dedicated to works of fiction, “or near fiction, or about fiction, mostly by women.”
Read more at our author page for Danielle Dutton.