“I will now—and not without apprehension—go against the advice of Leonard Michaels and talk about the writer who influences me more than any other: Leonard Michaels.
“In 1999, I was a graduate student in film at the University of Southern California, pursuing with futility a career in Hollywood. I’d ended up there as a strange concession to my parents, having convinced them and myself that cinema—with its endless credit roll of technical specialties—would offer the professional security they desired and creative gratification I sought. Writing—what I really wanted to do—appeared by comparison to be amorphous and fantastically improbable. But that winter, having fulfilled all of my course requirements, I enrolled in a creative writing class offered by the university. One day, the instructor suggested that I look up the work of a writer he thought I might like. That same afternoon I descended into the basement of USC’s Doheny Library looking for a collection of stories called I Would Have Saved Them If I Could by Leonard Michaels. In contrast to the library’s grand, sunlit exterior, its basement was like a bomb shelter, with metal stacks painted a dismal military gray-green. Filed on a low shelf, I found a selection of titles by Leonard Michaels, though not the book I was looking for. Arbitrarily, I opened one called Shuffle and read the first line. It went like this: ‘Sobbing like a child, he phoned his wife at her lover’s apartment.’ Instantly, I was drawn in. Through the thicket of conflicting words—child, wife, lover’s apartment—I saw the husband in his animal misery set against the cool urbanity of the wife and her lover. Rereading the line now I see them again, as I’ve seen them on countless other rereadings. This one line, dramatic and succinct, epitomizes much of what I came to admire about Michaels’ writing. There is humor, pathos, and an appreciation for the absurdity to be found in everyday life. There is also the invocation of the subject that fuels much of Michaels’ work, which he once defined as ‘the way men and women seem unable to live with and without each other.’ Turning pages, I stayed in the cavernous Doheny stacks for a long time, unwilling to stop reading even long enough to go upstairs and check the book out. It was the most powerful reading experience I’d ever had. I felt as if I’d found a writer who had managed to express the world the way I saw it. The effect was both exhilarating and humbling.”