Web Feature

THOMAS COOK
in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

RACHEL YANKU

What inspired you to write a satire about a chicken wing party?

THOMAS COOK

I don’t remember the initial inspiration. I think I wrote the first draft three or four years before Bennington Review offered to publish a later revision. I can’t recall the idea arriving. I hadn’t really thought about it as satire until you mentioned it, but you’re right. What do you think it satirizes?

RACHEL YANKU

Even though the story keeps talking about how delicious the wings are, it doesn’t make me want to eat wings anytime soon, nor do I think as a reader that you think as a writer that the wings are delicious. Have you written about food before, and did writing this story affect your thinking about the role of food in our culture?

THOMAS COOK

I don’t think the wings are anything special; I think they are as good as chicken wings, whether those wings are plucked off a Paul Bocuse Bresse chicken cooked in a bladder and smothered with truffles or you pick them up mechanically disambiguated from a factory chicken at Wegmans.

Your question really blows my mind because I now realize I maybe write about food only. The select few stories I’ve been fortunate enough to publish all have food at their center: “Atlas” (crème anglaise) appeared in The McNeese Review, “Oysters” (yep, oysters) appeared in December, “Miscegenation” (G.T.’s Kombucha, Trilogy flavor) appeared in The Los Angeles Review, and “Black Tie” (Mai Tais) appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review. I once wrote a food review for McSweeney’s, also. Why am I just thinking about these food connections now? Do you think anyone wants to publish my collection of stories about food?

RACHEL YANKU

This is an unconventional story, to say the least, taking the structure of a party rather than of a traditional narrative, not delineating any particular characters, and yet vividly rendering the world of the story through tone and detail. Could you talk a little bit about following and breaking convention when writing stories?

THOMAS COOK

I don’t necessarily think of my stories as unconventional, but maybe that’s because the people who helped me figure out what I was doing in fiction were Lydia Davis and Lynne Tillman, two authors who a lot of people probably consider writers of unconventional stories.

I get interested in the way something is said, something like, “These wings are delicious,” and I just kind of follow that into a world. There is always tension between what we say and what it means once we say it. That’s a narrative, in my mind.

RACHEL YANKU

“Chicken Wing Party” functions in part as a social commentary. To what extent do you see social commentary as the role or obligation of contemporary writers of short stories?

THOMAS COOK

Writers should not feel obliged to write anything that does not occur to them. When we go into our writing with intentions, we end up with little more than an elaboration of those intentions. To me that’s not really fiction’s job. I like that you think the story enacts a social commentary. How exactly do you think the story functions as social commentary?

RACHEL YANKU

What are your favorite short stories? What was the first short story you remember loving?

THOMAS COOK

The first short story I remember loving was Denis Johnson’s “Emergency.” I was a senior in high school and sitting in a creative class taught by writer and publisher John Colburn. (Shout out Spout Press.) He gave each one of us a copy of that story and he had written “Denis Johnson” on the left side of the first page. I didn’t know who Denis Johnson was and he didn’t tell us. I think we read the whole story out loud. Do you remember that story? The drive-in that could be heaven? The bunnies squished in the car seat? Fuckhead, I believe is the narrator’s name. I loved it because it felt like life felt. It felt like a real voice speaking to me. I still have the handout.

The first part of this question is hard. I have lots of favorite stories. David Foster Wallace’s “Another Pioneer” and “Good Old Neon” come immediately to mind. I’m also a big fan of Gogol’s “The Overcoat.” I’ve been trying to publish a story with that title for five years. I think my story is good, but his is great. I currently live in Los Angeles, and last month I went to hear Christine Schutt and Kim O’Neil read at The Last Bookstore. You should go there if you haven’t been. Christine Schutt’s stories—all of them I’ve read or heard—are great, and Kim O’Neil read an equally great story from her collection Fever Dogs. I remember part of the story took place in a startup where a Transylvanian temp named Dragos walks around the office shirtless surprises people from behind by putting his hands over their eyes. The story is called “How to Draw from Life.” I recommend reading that story.


THOMAS COOK lives in Los Angeles, where he edits and publishes the journal and chapbook press Tammy. His fiction has also appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, and recent poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review. 


RACHEL YANKU is an editorial assistant at Bennington Review.



Issue Four
13.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart