Let’s honest with each other:
You and I both know damn well I’m not capable of writing sentences that could do justice to Meg Tuite’s prose and poetry. I’m just thankful she so graciously agreed to humor me with all my inept questions.
So here’s me falling on my inarticulate sword and stepping out of the way and letting other better writers speak to the skill and artistry on display in Meg Tuite’s White Van.
Here are things smarter, more good-worded people have said about Meg Tuite’s White Van that are far more articulate than I could ever come up with:
– an elbow to the mouth
– a merciless howl in the face of a world given up on the Disney version of fairytales
– a poetic-prose vehicle to keep us looking and listening, and feeling unsettled by art
– a starkly eruptive world of words beyond death, beyond decay
– an appalling world of solitary pathos
– foreboding, danger, and violence from cover to cover
– the brutal energy of a world of serial killers, pedophiles, pornographers, kidnappers, suicides, prostitutes, and loners
– brutality, misery, and hopelessness
– gorgeously brutal
– It will turn you inside out.
If that all doesn’t make you want to go out and read Meg Tuite’s White Van right now, then honestly, I don’t have the time nor the tools teach you how to fix your flawed views on life and art.
But then, on second thought, no, this doesn’t quite do it for me either. All great descriptions, yet by themselves they still can’t fully give you an idea of the reason you need Meg Tuite’s White Van in your life.
So here you go. Here are just a handful of the 800 sentences you will underline and star and reread and be jealous of when you read Meg Tuite’s White Van:
– Tonight I watch retribution shudder like a slice of panic.
– Does anyone know childhood suffocates as quickly as a bad check?
– Squandered tomorrows stunt into rotted yesterdays.
– Tolerance has a short fuse.
– The girl becomes revenge in this geography where only pain exists.
– The jowls of a man of knowledge are weighed down by a hefty lifetime of facts.
– He loved the sick and dying. They spoke truths and he listened.
– A dot of a house on the planet of nobody will ever know had grazed the roiling fog of drowned violence. What a family heirloom. A riot of repressed introspection. A bullet in everyone’s head.
– Can stories actually rearrange continents if they’re fondled long enough?
And so, now that I’ve opened myself up to copyright infringement litigation, I’ll shut up and get to the interview…
BD: White Van has so many interesting things going on in it—the mixing of genres, the shifting points of view, the recurring white van.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process of it?
Did you always have it in mind that you were going to write a book about creepy, deranged, darkass predator shit?
Or was it more of a thing where you kept coming back to similar themes and you found yourself building a collection out of them?
MT: It started with a small group of kickass writers sending a new piece weekly. Four of us together for over a year, I believe. Once we were in Covid era, Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Hulu were streaming a ton of stuff and we don’t have a TV. I could get anything on my computer, and so I was watching serial killer documentaries. Watched and read about the capture of the Golden State Killer. Took four decades to catch this guy and when they nailed him he was mowing his lawn, an eighty-something old man/ex-cop with a family living in a suburb.
I also listened to the podcast: My Favorite Murder obsessively and it was two women, each with a different serial murderer, twice a week and I listened for at least a year. And I watched Cold Case Files and it became apparent that this phenomena plateaued in the 70’s in the US. Hitchhikers and lack of technology kept these creatures in their psycho-game.
DNA has now lowered the pitch, but we still deal with kids and women tortured, raped, and killed. I found a form of warfare each and every time I spoke with friends, family, acquaintances in the city. Every woman had a story. Many men had a story. It keeps most women from walking the streets at night alone. It’s fucked up!
BD: As someone who listens to a lot of fucked-up true crime podcasts as I walk my dogs in the dark at 4 in the morning, I was completely sucked in by this book’s willingness to get to the ugly truths and to not gloss over the parts most people don’t want to really think about (even when they consume true crime).
Was there a time where you questioned if you were going too far? For yourself? For your publisher? Reader? Etc.?
MT: Yes. Definitely questions whether I was too gritty, too brutal, too graphic. Not by my publisher, Jonathan Penton, of Unlikely Books. He took it on shortly after I sent it to him. He’s a warrior.
I didn’t want to work with someone who was going to have a problem with the depth of the material! This is not work about trying to scare or push anyway. I’m dedicated to writing through trauma, whether it be on the streets or date rape or family shit! Readers who connected with White Van were those I needed to connect with. That’s how I see it. We find the books, the writers, we most relate with, and that’s when the fireworks happen.
BD: How did you decide to draw the lines of how to not to blink but also how to make sure that it didn’t sound sensationalized?
And also: Did you have to take breaks from writing this? Like, did you have to crochet scarfs for your dog(s) in the middle of the night?
MT: HAHAHA! I’m not a crochet-er, but wrap myself in scarfs and cover the dogs and cats in blankets! We have a wood-burning stove that keeps it a feast of firelight, warmth, and the timeless scents of juniper, evergreen, and smoky woods.
If anyone does any research, which can amount to turning on the news any day of the week, there’s no need to sensationalize the depth of violence rampant everywhere and daily. And nothing beats reality when it comes to the shit happening on this planet. It’s a never ending exploration in horror.
BD: I feel like I could teach an entire class based on your syntax. I love sentences that bounce around each other and up against each other—sentences that push and pull, herk and jerk, and make you work as a reader.
The “downside” is that I think I read every story in here like three times before I could stop underlining and diagraming and actually finish a story.
MT: My decision was to create a musicality and beauty to the language that juxtaposed the content. Poetic prose is a form I love to work in. And so, I hoped that the language choice would allow readers to go further in to the depth of the horrors.
BD: I know that you write a lot of poetry and prose and of course, this is mixed genre. Do you have a separate “poetry mode” versus “prose mode” when you are writing? Or is it more just this thing feels more like a story and that thing feels more like a snapshot?
Is there more “cutting” in one versus the other or is this style just the most natural style for you to write in?
MT: If you look back at my collections from ten years ago, I wrote short stories that were up to thirty or more pages. It’s been an interesting movement for me in writing. I did publish many long stories, but the first one I sent out didn’t make the cut. I decided to cut it myself into five separate stories. Within a week of sending them out, they were picked up and published. Who knows? I do know that my inspiration now is mostly poetry. And so that may be the reason for honing pieces in to some core that works for me.
BD: I think there are at least three double-underline-star lines in every piece in here. How much do these lines come naturally for you? Are there times where you have to “kill your darlings”? Are there times where you’re like fuck yeah, I’m like the best sentencer ever?
Who are some of the sentencers that you admire most?
MT: The “kill your darlings” was a problem for me. I remember one writing teacher told the class we should attempt to put two incredible sentences on each page, but no more. And so many agreed. It’s not my deal. WTF? Poets don’t do that. Each line is its own universe. That is what I love to read, and also hope for as a writer.
The BEST SENTENCER OUT THERE NOW: Garielle Lutz!!! Absolutely a master of the sentence, the phrase, the right word for every line!
Read this unparalleled essay on the SENTENCE by Garielle Lutz published in The Believer!
Some of my favorite authors?
Garielle Lutz, Clarice Lispector, Janet Frame, Bruno Schulz, Tove Ditlevsen, Jeanette Winterson, Flann O’Brien, Fernando Pessoa
BD: Okay, so this is probably one of those nerdy pedantic questions that you might roll your eyes at at an AWP panel, but since I’m at heart a nerdy pedant, here goes:
I love how fragmented and detached the point of view is in a lot of these pieces, somehow without losing pathos and heart.
Part of it I think comes from how much you use personification, especially at the beginning of your pieces. The streets are literally coming alive in here. The body is talking. In so many cases, the inanimate objects are speaking as loudly as the protagonists are.
How much of that was intentional to this particular project? How much of that is simply how you experience the world? How much of that is your poetry background? How much of that is oh-god-are-you-really-asking-me-this-that’s-so-tacking-and-lit-cliché?
MT: I LOVE YOU AND I LOVE YOUR QUESTIONS! To animate the inanimate is the ultimate goal, for me, as a writer. Why? Everything that exists has energy, a pulse. Why would humans have more of a pulse than the lamp behind them that illuminates their being, their life, their work? Bruno Schulz is a master of this brilliance! Nothing in his collections is without a heartbeat. READ HIM!
I’m so thankful that you saw some of this in White Van!
When I find this in a book, I am ecstatic and mesmerized! Those writers are out there! I am sure that “kill your beauties” isn’t in their mindset.
BD: Lastly, along with unflinching portraits of ugliness here, I also really appreciated that there’s not a lot of “well the sun will come up tomorrow” and “everything happens for a reason” and “this all empowered me to become a real fighter.”
I’m always interested in this question of redemption. If we don’t have characters that rise above or stories that empower or plots that teach a broader lesson about the world, how do we keep our readers from getting too depressed to continue reading and want to curl up in the fetal position and not come out for weeks?
Mostly because that’s what I struggle with—because as the expression goes “sad songs make me happy,” or more aptly: tragedy sucks me in and carries me through.
To make a long question even longer, how much do we feel like language plays a role in pulling the reader through the ugly parts?
In so many stories, I felt like it’s your clarity of point of view, your ear for sound, your ability to articulate ideas the rest of us can’t—that’s what rises above here, that’s what makes us want to keep reading even when it’s hard to.
Is that something you think about in your own writing and/or the writing of others?
MT: That Disney happy ending? A Kirkus review and a newspaper interview on Bound By Blue, in so many words, wrote that I wouldn’t know a happy ending if I saw one. Agreed. Not that we don’t have moments of bliss, but delve into the daily reality for the majority and it is not a fucking happy face balloon!
I agree, Benjamin! It’s hard to relate to some whack jobs routing the audience through the cliched plot of romantic comedies and over-the-top stories of “good vs evil” crap!
I have always searched for books I find myself in, whether it be through emotions, experience, the outsider unafraid to expose insecurities, depression, fear, and struggle. Those are the pages I want most to read.