Mastering the art of the breakup story
What Is All This?:
by Stephen Dixon
$29.99 List Price
Though it was the Paris Review that published Stephen Dixon's first short story, "The Chess House," all the way back in 1963, the relationship between the author and the Review's editor, George Plimpton, was always fraught. By then, Dixon, born in 1936, had already been a news reporter (he was the first to interview Khrushchev on American soil), an art school model, a bus driver, a bartender, and a schoolteacher. Mostly what he was was poor. Sometime after "The Chess House," Plimpton stopped returning his messages. So Dixon got desperate and pretended to be the actor Howard Duff—a man famous at the time for playing Sam Spade on the radio. The author received a bewildered call back and then, the next day, a letter from Plimpton. It read: "Not only are you not a novelist, but you're probably not a short-story writer either."
Five hundred and some short stories later, Dixon is among the most prolific writers of fiction still living. Though the author's first book wasn't published until he was forty, Dixon now has more than thirty novels and story collections to his credit. In just this past decade, Dixon has published—among other things—Phone Rings (2005), a novel that consists almost entirely of two men talking to each other over the telephone; I (2002) and The End of I (2006), a claustrophobic diptych chronicling the creative frustrations of an author who often seems suspiciously similar to his progenitor; and Meyer (2007), a book about writer's block, something we can be entirely sure Dixon doesn't have. His productivity is such that when he and Fantagraphics began to