Kathryn Scanlan: Melanie Schiff

Kathryn Scanlan

Kathryn Scanlan received a 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for “exceptional accomplishment” in literature. Her story collection The Dominant Animal was named a Best Book of 2020 by The Guardian, Southwest Review, and Publishers Weekly, and her first book, Aug 9—Fog, was praised in a starred review by Publishers Weekly as “an outstanding debut, profound and moving: Scanlan’s portrait of an everywoman feels entirely new.” She lives in Los Angeles.

Kick the Latch

Fiction by Kathryn Scanlan

Kathryn Scanlan’s Kick the Latch vividly captures the arc of one woman’s life at the racetrack—the flat land and ramshackle backstretch; the bad feelings and friction; the winner’s circle and the racetrack bar; the fancy suits and fancy boots; and the “particular language” of “grooms, jockeys, trainers, racing secretaries, stewards, pony people, hotwalkers, everybody”—with economy and integrity. Based on transcribed interviews with Sonia, a horse trainer, the novel investigates form and authenticity in a feat of synthesis reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony.…
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What’s mesmerizing here is Sonia’s voice, her rhythm and gift for telling a story. You forget for most of the ride that it’s a ventriloquy act and the author—Kathryn Scanlan—wields a mean stiletto for a crop. Bringing together two seemingly antithetical impulses—the authenticity of Sonia’s words, the artifice of Scanlan’s whittled down collage of those words—the book is a nifty feat of equipoise achieved with the same ease that the trainer notes in an ideal jockey who is able to “balance an egg on their back” without losing it. The hybrid that results is a wonderfully empathic window opened onto a fascinating life lived on the margins.
—Eric Banks, 4Columns
Scanlan writes about ordinary life in extraordinary ways by compacting it radically, like pressurizing carbon into diamonds. When Sonia describes the force absorbed by a single hoof in every stride of a horse’s gallop—“a thousand pounds of pressure held up by that one thin leg”—she could also be describing Scanlan’s syntax: compact phrases holding so much pressure. The work is structured by recurring themes: the violence and pleasures of intimacy, the balm and exhaustion of hard work, our bonds with animals and with our own animal natures—those surges of desire and aggression that unseat and rearrange us.
—Leslie Jamison, The New Yorker
Scanlan writes about ordinary life in extraordinary ways by compacting it radically, like pressurizing carbon into diamonds. When Sonia describes the force absorbed by a single hoof in every stride of a horse’s gallop—“a thousand pounds of pressure held up by that one thin leg”—she could also be describing Scanlan’s syntax: compact phrases holding so much pressure. The work is structured by recurring themes: the violence and pleasures of intimacy, the balm and exhaustion of hard work, our bonds with animals and with our own animal natures—those surges of desire and aggression that unseat and rearrange us.
—Leslie Jamison, The New Yorker
Kick the Latch, a short, absorbing novel about a racetrack horse trainer…is informed by a series of conversations with the real Sonia, who Scanlan met through her mother, and it has a blunt, vivid idiom that renders gore and beauty with similar clarity. That idiom is informed by Sonia’s own voice: “I wanted to preserve — amplify, exaggerate — Sonia’s idiosyncratic speech,” Scanlan says. The book feels like an interview, and it’s impressive what Scanlan does within that frame, especially with animals that serve as proxies for humans in their embodiment of power, independence, and humiliation.
—Erin Schwartz, Vulture
Kathryn Scanlan’s words will mark you. Her work is sharp, deliberate, and poised—rife with subtly peculiar language.
—Crow Jonah Norlander, Bomb Magazine
Scanlan’s inventive novel documents a woman’s hardscrabble yet jubilant life and her dedication to working with racehorses. Shaped from interview transcripts with a real-life trainer named Sonia (no last name given), Scanlan’s vignettes carry readers across the arc of Sonia’s life…but the most beautiful moments are quiet ones, in which Sonia processes the choices she and others have made, and of the consequences she faces in a field dominated by men. With this sharp and lovely tribute to a singular woman, Scanlan continues to impress.
—Publishers Weekly
Kathryn Scanlan has performed a magical act of empathic ventriloquy in Kick the Latch. This immediate, engrossing immersion in another life and world, so personally and passionately told, is compulsively readable.
—Lydia Davis
I have been following Kathryn Scanlan’s original voice for years. In her new venture—an unusually intimate, clear-eyed portrait of a tough and engaging woman conveyed in revelatory vignettes—every word is essential.
—Amy Hempel
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