Collected Fictions


“Gordon Lish, famous for all the wrong reasons, has written some of the most fascinating American fiction of the last ten years.” – Don DeLillo

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About the Book

“Reading [Lish’s] stories is like looking at the gears of a clock that’s missing a face.” – D. T. Max, The New York Times Magazine

“With writing reminiscent of Stein or Beckett, Lish reminds his readers that the actual past and the remembered past are different, and he fleshes out every possible perspective … These details — haunting, funny, ordinary, pitiable — are the real stuff of life.” — Boston Review

In literary America, to utter the name “Gordon Lish” in a conversation is like adding hot sauce to a meal. You either enjoy the zesty experience, one that pushes your limits –– or you prefer to stay away. It’s Lish who, first as fiction editor at Esquire magazine (where he earned the nickname “Captain Fiction”) and then at the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, shaped the work of many of the country’s foremost writers, from Raymond Carver and Barry Hannah to Amy Hempel and Lily Tuck.

As a writer himself, Lish’s stripped-down, brutally spare style earns accolades in increasing numbers. His oeuvre is coming to be recognized as among the most significant of the period that spans the transition between the 20th and 21st centuries. Kirkus Reviews wrote of his last collection that “Lish…is still our Joyce, our Beckett, our most true modernist.”

This definitive collection of Lish’s short work includes a new foreword by the author and 106 stories, many of which Lish has revised exclusively for this edition. His observations are in turn achingly sad and wryly funny as they spark recognition of our common, clumsy humanity. There are no heroes here, except, perhaps, for all of us, as we muddle our way through life: they are stories of unfaithful husbands, inadequate fathers, restless children and writing teachers, men lost in their middle age: more often than not first-person tales narrated by one “Gordon Lish.” The take on life is bemused, satirical, and relentlessly accurate; the language unadorned: the result is a model of modernist prose and a volume of enduring literary craftsmanship.

Publication June 15th 2010 • 546 pages
paperback ISBN 978-0-9842950-5-0 • ebook ISBN 978-0-9842950-6-7

About the Author

Photograph of Gordon Lish © Bill Hayward
Gordon Lish is the author of Dear Mr. Capote, Peru, What I Know So Far, Mourner at the Door, Extravaganza, My Romance, Zimzum, and Epigraph. This body of work, together with his activities as a teacher and editor, have placed him at the forefront of the American literary scene.

In the Media

Newsweek, June 19th 2014

The Guardian, August 29th 2013

StraylightNovember 17th 2010

The Daily Beast Best Book Trailers, October 2010

The Faster Times, August 23rd 2010

Ottawa XPress, June 3rd 2010

The Constant Conversation, July 11th 2010

Bomblog, July 7th 2010

Robb Todd, March 27th 2010

Viceland Today, March 26th 2010

“OR Books will publish Gordon Lish’s Collected Fictions on April 30th. Lish, best known as Raymond Carver’s Svengali, was an editor at Knopf and Esquire, a writing workshop drill sergeant, and a merciless pruner of purple prose. His stories are sure to attract intense scrutiny; we can already hear slighted authors sharpening their red pencils in anticipation.”

Bookforum, March 16th 2010

The Faster Times, March 16th 2010, March 15th 2010, March 15th 2010

Read an Excerpt


By Gordon Lish

Fine, fine—now here’s a trope for you.

To fetch groceries, to collect rations, to supply the place with vittles, unless it be deemed better spelt victuals, I do not have to but indeed do choose to make my arthritic, rachitic grudge down a steep hill and thereafter to groan my way back up the steepness steeper still, what remains of my proprium all the while suffering ever more keenly the impudent yearage step by hideous step, whereas, please be so good as to be listening to me, I could just as well carry out my commerce among the aisles of a spankingly swell food-o-rama no more distant from my door and, more’s the madness, reachable via a byway latitudinous to a fault.

But I go down, down, down, up, up, up.

You hear?

Now down, now up—to and from where the grisly shelves are stocked with little in the line of the recognizable, to and from where the ether within is never not vicious with infection and disinfectant, to and from where the personnel (am I kidding?—personnel, personnel?) would even on Easter sooner spit in your face than to face it in a faint-hearted experiment in decency.

Go know.

But look at me, look at me!—I went and I went, dark purchases mounting against the load-bearing walls of my household trip upon ghastly trip.

So there for the nonce is the figure of the day, your author having hence satisfied himself of his having hinted at the amentia of what founded the variously deformed fundaments of the stories (am I kidding?—stories, stories?) all arranged for you in the very sequence of their sequentiality ahead.

I, I, I was the maker of them.


Long ago.

When the literateur’s swindle was no less the rage.

So now to quit now.

Ah, but curse, curse the volition!—too much paid for the profit, too much told for the gain.