Coming in at number three: Rudy Wilson, Author of The Red Truck
Whether or not it's meant as a conscious allusion, the title of Rudy Wilson's novel ''The Red Truck'' instantly recalls William Carlos Williams's poem ''The Red Wheelbarrow,'' and in doing so, it signals some of the interests shared by this first-time novelist and the poet: a painterly use of color; a reliance on strong, often fragmentary images, and a fascination with syntax and diction.
Williams once said that when someone makes a poem, he takes words from the world about him, composing them ''into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses''; and a similar impulse appears to inform Mr. Wilson's book. It's less a novel in any conventional sense than a long prose poem told largely from the point of view of two visionary children, named Billy-Billy Jump and Teddianne Sayers, who speak to us bizarrely in a manner all their own. In the course of the story, both of them grow to adulthood, but they retain a heightened, idiot-savantlike perspective, and this condition not only colors their off-kilter perceptions but also twists their language into musical contortions. * *
The Red Truck is one of those late-80s Knopf books edited by Lish that I found remaindered one day in some TV appliance-warehouse-turned-bookshop that is now a place that sells tires. I took it home and immediately could feel the sensation of something new running through my hands. I think it’s a brilliant book, a one of a kind book, a book that wouldn’t have been made into a book had it not found its way into Gordon’s hands. I think the story goes behind it that Lish cut the manuscript in half (sort of what he did to Barry Hannah’s revved up Ray). I suspect what Lish did was find the core of Rudy’s Red Truck and cut away much of what a much younger Wilson thought was needed to hold the story together. For me it’s a novel that is pure hallucination and is the kind of book that I return to again and again in order to recapture that initial rush that language in its purest, most musical form can offer to us. Each time that I do Rudy’s sentences unglue me and then put me back together in new ways. I let my sister read The Red Truck, some years ago, and when she did she ended up having a major seizure. The effect that the book had on my sis is what we all want from our work: sentences that take hold of the brain and seize it up, unhinge us from the world around us, and make the body of us do some fucked-up sort of pogo to a music that Wilson’s song makes us hear inside our own heads. The Red Truck by Rudy Wilson is the realest of deals. You can get it now from Ravenna Press along with a brand new book of short fiction by Wilson called Sonja’s Blues. And while you’re loitering around at the Ravenna website, do yourself a third favor and nab Norman Lock’s The Long Rowing Unto Morning, an equally dreamy and necessary book.
Oh, and for good measure, I figured I’d add in a letter he wrote to the New York Times a while back.
Gordon Lish was my editor (D.T. Max, Aug. 9). Early on, he said to me about my work, ''Never explain or apologize in the writing.'' That is probably what accounted for the serious cuts he made in my first novel, ''The Red Truck,'' published by Knopf in 1987. He took my novel to France for a month and mowed it down from 440 pages to a final 178. He said to me when it was done, ''I wish I could put my name on it.'' I thought, ''You may as well.''
At first, I was in shock at the final outcome of his editing. Not only had he cut the book in half, but he had taken a line out of context from the middle of the book and put it in as the final sentence. It made no sense to me on any level of the work. He informed me that if the original manuscript were to be published, it would receive no notice and would be read only by the ''lunatic fringe.'' We eventually agreed on a version we both liked. There is not one word of his in the book. His main task had been to cut, and cut it he did. He wants to get to the meat of the work and display it in its honest reality, and I believe he is a genius at it.