James Claffey and Robert Vaughan are not new authors to me, really they're anything but. I've followed their literary careers, I've read with them, blurbed their books and asked them to blurb mine, had them as guests on This Podcast Will Change Your Life, Vaughan anyway, I'll need to get Claffey on as well, soon, promise. But they've been around, and I've been around, and it is this idea of still being around that I found myself ruminarting on as I read their most recent books The Heart Crossways and FUNHOUSE by Claffey and Vaughan respectively. Which is not to ignore the gifts that come with their work. It feels almost cliche to point out that the Ireland-born Claffey's command of language borders on the luxurious (luminous just didn't seem to capture what was in my head). I assume that this is a birthright, but as I wrote when blurbing his short story collection Blood a Cold Blue, "...James Claffey infuses every story with rhythm and rot, doing things with words that I've never seen before and don't expect to again," Claffey knows loss and decay, and in this new novel he twists both into a coming of age tale that may follow every rule - sex, violence, individuation, delinquency - but feels new, or at least renewed under his pen and his clear-eyed view on what it means to be working class, the struggles to survive, and to hold onto one's pride, especially the always delicate male pride, the desire to escape, the lack of balance and stability and the wonder at how one will ever be anything but that which they seem fated to be. Also a birthright I imagine. Vaughan on the other hand does what he has continued to do from book to book and line to line, an exploration of the myriad places Vaughan has traveled, both physically and temporally. Time and place bending to his imagination. In the same way Claffey juggles words, Vaughan juggles the copious amounts of ideas that seem to churn through his brain and onto the page. That these ideas seem to come back to an ongoing search for the meaning in relationships, any and all relationships, family, marriage, male, female, gay, straight, is a reminder that like the coming of age tale, talking relationship is not something new, but few explore all the twists and iterations of these dynamics as inventively or dynamically as Vaughan continues to do.
Now before I move on to the next book, post or riff, a call back from whence I came: this idea of being around. I've thought a lot lately about how many writers I've been lucky enough to meet over the years, but also how many, both male and female, seemed to have moved on from writing to other things. Some of this, and do be warned, more cliche is about to happe, is life happening, work, family, illness, and some of it may be that the desire to write has passed, as strong as it may or may not have been, other things are just as important and there is only so much time to do it all. But I also believe that some of it is something else, that time passes these authors by, that they get stuck, unsure of what comes next, or what comes next is not of enough interest to them or those who might publish their books, other writers come along to replace them, time starts to slip away, and with it the desire to keep pushing and keep struggling as they did at the start of their careers. Claffey and Vaughan are still around, still pushing and juggling words, and to celebrate that a couple of white dudes have persisted is obnxious, but it doesn't feel like nothing that they have. The world will gladly leave you, or them, behind, but it hasn't happened to Claffey and Vaughan, not yet, and that, we can all celebrate. Not to say doing so will change your life, but their words will, always, and for long as we have them.