Kevin Canty's new collection, Where the Money Went, was published this summer. The collection includes "The Birthday Girl," which was featured in this year's Summer Fiction Issue of the L. Canty, who teaches writing at the University of Montana, answered some questions for us earlier this year.
The L: What do you think of the recurring assessment of your work as occupied with the underbelly of things? Do you think it's a fair description? Is it something you consider while writing?
Kevin Canty: It depends on what you mean. I do love the dark sides and gray areas—the sunny surfaces of life I find pretty much uninteresting. I'm often working to bring to the page and make visible a feeling or thought that lies buried but present, just out of sight.
When I first started writing, I also felt a need to bring more working-class (and drinking class) characters into my stories; I'd spent a lot of time out of the middle classes and felt like there were a lot of stories that weren't getting told. Lately, though—after all this time in the University—I feel like I've lost touch with those lives a little, and so more of my characters in this new collection have money, jobs, nice shoes.
L: So, as the places you're looking to find and expose those buried thoughts and feelings change, is what you're finding different?
KC: Well, obviously, the threads that make us all human are pretty much the same: love, death, fear of death, fear of love, embrace of death, the need for sandwiches, all these things are spread across everybody's lives. I was going to say that perhaps these more privileged lives are less constrained by circumstance, but that's probably not true. It's just different manners and morals, different ways these primal dramas get acted out.
L: The stories in Where the Money Went seem as interested in physical landscape as they are in, say, alcoholism and troubled relationships. Your descriptions of the locations your characters inhabit are reverent, in a way, and beautifully wrought. Do you think there's a balancing act in your writing between personal despair and external beauty?
KC: Interesting question. There's always this kind of fake-ironic relationship between landscape and weather and inner feeling; the morning of September 11 was a beautiful day, which in the end really means nothing. But a lot of these stories are set in the West, and the West does attract people like me who feel a stirring at the sight of a mountain range or a trout stream, riffle and pool. The landscape does sometimes have the power to console, for those of us who look to nature for consolation.
L: After living in the West for so long, do you still feel moved by the landscape? Do you ever get the urge to run away to a big city?
KC: Well, I do run away to the big city, fairly often; we flew into LaGuardia on the evening of July Fourth this year, just as all the fireworks were going off. I love big noisy cities, rock shows, restaurants. I am moved by visual art, which is in short supply here in the Intermountain West. But I also love these trout streams and mountain ranges. It's quiet here, and very convenient, and good for writing. An ideal life would have both in it.