Daniel Perry is the author of Hamburger and Nobody Looks That Young Here.
Daniel Perry is the author of the collection of short fiction Hamburger. While the interviewer wishes this conversation had taken place at Dangerous Dan’s, the truth is that it took place over email.
Jason Freure: Why the title Hamburger?
Daniel Perry: I wrote “Hamburger” (the story) when I was just starting to get published, just starting to believe I could get a book written one day, and it was the first story I read in public, too. I thought that the feeling of being ground down that comes through that story was reflected in a lot of the work, though I’d stop short of saying one title could perfectly reflect 23 pieces compiled over 10 years; you eventually just have to pick one. That “Hamburger” meant something to me personally gave it extra points.
JF: The book is subdivided into sections: Coarse, Medium, and Fine. I got the sense that the stories in each section had a little more artifice than the last, even if they all have something to do with feeling like shit. Which section came first when you writing this book?
DP: The oldest story in the book is “Aria di Gelato” (from “Medium”), which I first drafted in 2006. The last section written was “Fine,” the final one that contains just the one long story, “Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole”; I had wanted to write that story for years but didn’t tackle it until I had most of the rest of the collection together. The order and division into groups wasn’t determined in advance, though, so much as the stories were arranged once they were all finished. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of something Martin Scorsese said in an interview (paraphrase): along the way, the editing process becomes less about what you wanted to make and more about what you did make.
JF: In “Medium,” we get more characters telling stories. “Vaporetto,” for example, is framed as a short story written by a creative writing professor sending it to a friend. There are more layers with each “grind.” It makes me wonder if you have a theory about storytelling, or what happens to characters when the story is more complex?
DP: I think I emerged from editing Hamburger with something like a theory, but the analogy of the different grinds also came to me quite late in the process. I front-loaded the collection with flash largely as a practical consideration, hoping it would build some momentum for the reading experience, but when I stacked these pieces up beside the longer stories I came to see them as the “first pass” over the subject matter: moments of disorientation for the reader, or hit-and-runs, from the writer’s perspective. Once I stuck myself with this scheme, the longest story in the book (“Three Deaths”) had to be called the finest grind and placed last in the collection.
JF: Toronto shows up in a few stories. “Hamburger” seems like it takes place in a Hero Burger. “Aria di Gelato” takes place in Dufferin Mall. Set in an old-school Italian community: working class families, kids who work at the mall with grandparents and girlfriends who live up the street. What was the motivation for setting a story in that world?
DP: The short answer is, I grew up working-class, so in my experience work has always felt inextricable from people’s lives: our obligations and our expectations say a lot about us, and so many of them are tied to what we do (often, what we “have to do”) for a living. I see fictional characters in the same way; I’ve always had a hard time buying into characters who don’t work. I think I could extend that thought to why Toronto shows up, too: my fiction feels more believable to me when I anchor it in a real place, a real history, a real economy, etc.
JF: If I wanted to turn Hamburger into a combo deal, what books, albums, movies, or whatever else, would round it out?
DP: At the risk of causing indigestion:
Books: Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, Helen Potrebenko’s Taxi!, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Russell Smith’s Girl Crazy, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.
Movies: The Dardenne brothers (Two Days, One Night; The Kid with the Bike; The Child).
Music: Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and about half of The River. And Arctic Monkeys’ AM, too.
Daniel Perry is the author of the short story collections Hamburger (Thistledown, 2016) and Nobody Looks That Young Here (Guernica, 2018). His fiction has been short-listed for the Carter V. Cooper Prize, and has appeared in more than 30 publications including The Dalhousie Review, Exile: The Literary Quarterly, SubTerrain, Riddle Fence, Black Heart Magazine (US), Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Little Fiction, The Prague Revue (Czech Rep.), and the Stone Skin Press anthology The Lion and the Aardvark (UK). He has also published a regular column in The Prague Revue and book reviews in The Malahat Review, The Antigonish Review, Broken Pencil and The Bull Calf Review. Dan lives in Toronto, where he is co-host and blog co-ordinator for the Brockton Writers Series, and can be found on Twitter @danielperrysays.