A childhood in the 1950s and ’60s among grifters, show girls, and mob enforcers who embraced the boy and made him who he is.
“These stories make for one of the most important and moving American bildungsromans of all time.”
—William Boyle, Southwest Review
Roy tells it the way he sees it, shuttled between Chicago to Key West and Tampa, Havana and Jackson MS, usually with his mother Kitty, often in the company of lip-sticked women and fast men. Roy is the muse of Gifford’s hardboiled style, a precocious child, watching the grown-ups try hard to save themselves, only to screw up again and again. He takes it all in, every waft of perfume and cigar smoke, every missed opportunity to do the right thing. And then there are the good things too. A fishing trip with Uncle Buck, a mother’s love, advice from Rudy, Roy’s father: “Roy means king. Be the king of your own country. Don’t depend on anyone to do your thinking for you.” The stories in The Boy Who Ran Away to Sea are together a love letter and a tribute to the childhood experiences that ground a life.
In the Author’s note, Gifford writes,
“I have often been asked if I were interested in writing my memoirs or an autobiography. Given that the Roy stories come as close as I care to come regarding certain circumstances, I remain comfortable with their verisimilitude. They all dwell within the boundary of fiction. As I have explained elsewhere, these are stories, I made them up. Roy ages from about five years old to late adolescence. After that, with the exception of a sighting in Veracruz, I have no idea what happened to him.”
“The way Barry Gifford lets people talk articulates everything about their unfamiliar inner lives, and ours.”
Poems from the acclaimed author of Roy’s World, Wild at Heart, and many other works.
The first words in Barry Gifford’s new poetry collection say it all—“Here I am wasting time again / writing poems to keep myself company”—doing what he has ever done, surprising his readers in kaleidoscopic prisms of color, turning every breath into a story, and himself into his most colorful character.
She stood and walked across the lawn past the cottage and into the big house. He stayed to watch the last of the sunset, waiting for the flash of green. When it was finally dark and there was no moon and the fireflies appeared, he got up and began walking toward the house. He loved the Italian word for firefly, lucciola. She was like that, flickering on and off from moment to moment. As he approached the house, he could hear her singing: Vogliatemi bene, un bene piccolino. It’s so strange, he thought, life’s so fast and time’s too slow. He stopped and watched the fireflies.
In my dream someone asked me if I remembered Frank Jackson Hearing this name brought tears to my eyes though I’ve never known anyone by that name
The mystery in these poems lives just beyond the province of words. In a strange way, Barry Gifford’s poems tell a wordless story, freed of the writer’s art. “It’s dangerous to remember / so much, especially for a writer / The temptation to make sense / of it is always there / where you and I / are no longer.” Daily life, family and friends, are much more important here than books. The beauty and elusiveness of women and music are of utmost importance, far more so than literature. As he attests: “I prefer music to poems, words don’t live the same way—so, listen.”
Dances With Films LA https://dwfla.com/2020/movies/roys-world-barry-giffords-chicago/ WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2 livestreaming at 2:45PM/Pacific to US viewers Q & A immediately after the film featuring Barry Gifford + Lili Taylor + Rob Christopher SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 6 livestreaming at 2:00PM/Pacific to US viewers Q & A immediately after the film featuring Barry Gifford + Lili Taylor + Rob Christopher
SF DocFEst FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18 https://sfdocfest2020.eventive.org/films/5f1741be799de80029a81930 video-on-demand presentation available any time on September 18 this screening (using geoblocking technology) will be viewable to those in California only. live Q & A at 7:45PM/Pacific, featuring Barry Gifford + Rob Christopher
New paperback available for pre-order September 22, 2020.
A tie-in to the new documentary, Roy’s World, directed by Rob Christopher narrated by Lili Taylor, Matt Dillon and Willem Dafoe, these stories comprise one of Barry Gifford’s most enduring works, his homage to the gritty Chicago landscape of his youth.
Barry Gifford has been writing the story of America in acclaimed novel after acclaimed novel for the last half-century. At the same time, he’s been writing short stories, his “Roy stories,” that show America from a different vantage point, a certain mix of innocence and worldliness. Reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, Gifford’s Roy stories amount to the coming-of-age novel he never wrote, and are one of his most important literary achievements—time-pieces that preserve the lost worlds of 1950s Chicago and the American South, the landscape of postwar America seen through the lens of a boy’s steady gaze.
The twists and tragedies of the adult world seem to float by like curious flotsam, like the show girls from the burlesque house next door to Roy’s father’s pharmacy who stop by when they need a little help, or Roy’s mom and the husbands she weds and then sheds after Roy’s Jewish mobster father’s early death. Life throws Roy more than the usual curves, but his intelligence and curiosity shape them into something unforeseen, while Roy’s complete lack of self-pity allow the stories to seem to tell themselves.
A masterpiece of mood and setting, character and remembrance, The Cuban Club is Barry Gifford’s ultimate coming-of-age story told as sixty-seven linked tales, a creation myth of the Fall as seen through the eyes of an innocent child on the cusp of becoming an innocent man.
Set in Chicago in the 1950s and early 1960s against the backdrop of small-time hoodlums in the Chicago mob and the girls and women attached to them, there is the nearness of heinous crimes, and the price to be paid for them. To Roy and his friends, these twists and tragedies drift by like curious flotsam. The tales themselves are koan-like, often ending in questions, with rarely a conclusion. The story that closes the book is in the form of a letter from Roy to his father four years after his father’s death, but written as if he were still alive. Indeed, throughout The Cuban Club Roy is still in some doubt whether divorce or even death really exists in a world where everything seems so alive and connected.
“What Gifford does with just a few pages is nothing short of magical. These very short stories straddle innocence and experience, good and evil. His tales are always dense with information, yet register with dreamlike intensity and have the resonance of an epiphany.” Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune