With the launch of our new journal STILTS IV just round the corner, we’d like to introduce you to the people whose work makes this edition so damn good. Most of them are busy succeeding in far-flung corners of the globe, so we asked them to tell us where exactly they are and what they’re doing there. Today, meet Samuel Rutter.
Samuel Rutter is a writer and translator from Melbourne. He has been published in journals including Overland, Kill Your Darlings, and The Lifted Brow. He is a contributing editor to the art and literary journal Higher Arc.
Stilts: Where are you and what are you up to?
SR: I’m living in San Telmo, in Buenos Aires. I’m in Argentina based at the Universidad de Buenos Aires doing research for my PhD. I’m looking at narrative worlds in contemporary fiction from Argentina and Chile, authors like Roberto Bolaño and Alejandro Zambra, who I got to interview in Chile in October. We had ceviche and walked his dog, it was pretty cool. Most recently though I was in Brazil for the Bienal in São Paulo which was really interesting.
I’ve had a few ideas for some new fiction simmering away for a while but lately I’ve mainly been working on the thesis. Higher Arc launched an issue in September, so right now we’re commissioning contributors for the next edition but also trying to come up with a workable budget. Translation is something I’ve been doing a bit of lately and and I’ve been taking Portuguese classes twice a week and now I’ve got a whole stack of books to read from my trip to Brazil.
In Stilts IV, Sam slides between a construction site in Box Hill, a bar in Tennessee, and an untranslated manuscript by a dead Uruguayan author, looking for links in the events that follow an unspectacular relationship breakdown.
Here is an extract from his piece ‘Magnets’
He was day-drinking in the bar where his band played on Thursday nights, because it was quiet and the barman only charged him for every couple of drinks. He said it was one of those typical Deep South bars: dark inside, with neon behind the bar, a pool table, men with beards in plaid and inside smoking despite the fact it was now against regulation. Dead animals on the walls. Warren thought it rounded out his American experience. He was sitting by himself at the bar that day, and as you might expect of a weekday afternoon it wasn’t particularly busy. There was a guy playing pool by himself, and two gaunt figures sitting in the corner wearing bolo ties who barely had any space left on the table for all the bottles and shot glasses lying between them. He could hear snatches of their conversation from time to time, but it just seemed like typically uninteresting drunken blather from afar.
One of the pair got up, shaking his head vehemently and staggered into the bathroom, while the other rocked back on his chair and signalled to the barman. When the first man came back from the bathroom, instead of returning to his friend he staggered over to Warren, and asked him to join them at their table. The first thing he said, Warren wrote, was to ask him what he was drinking, because he and his companion were buying.
It turned out they were brothers, named Walton and Maxwell, and they ran a motel down in Clarksdale their pappy had built after the war. They said they’d inherited the motel, so to speak, but weren’t really much for the hospitality business. Walton said they really ought to have become musicians, and then Maxwell said their pappy wouldn’t allow it.
So the brothers kept buying and Warren kept drinking, and they were getting along famously on account of Warren being an actual musician and all the associated tales he could consequently regale them with. After a lull in conversation, where it looked like either the brothers or Warren might finally stand to go, Maxwell broke in and asked Warren to settle a dispute. He said that just before they’d invited him over to their table (each brother used the plural for his actions) he and Walton had been quarrelling over Kurt Cobain and they wondered if Warren could settle it for them. Warren wrote that Walton looked at him sceptically, figuring him to be just a bit too young to know too much about Kurt Cobain but Maxwell hushed him and they put the question to Warren: what type of shotgun did Kurt Cobain use to kill himself? Walton was sure it was double-barrelled, whereas Maxwell claimed to know for a fact that it was a single-barrel. Warren smiled and pulled out his phone, he told them that he had no idea but that they could probably find out easily on the Internet. At this Maxwell hung his head and Walton sucked in deeply through his teeth. Maxwell ordered another round of Old Crow and gently chided Warren. Didn’t he know that just because somebody put something up on the Internet that didn’t mean it had any relation whatsoever to God’s truth? Warren supposed he was right.
So Warren told him that he didn’t know what type of shotgun it was, but that he did remember the day it happened because he’d been at his grandma’s house with his cousin Marky, and that Marky’s prized possessions at the time were pirated cassettes of Nirvana albums and two nickel-plated cap guns. Warren told them that Marky had taken him out to the back shed where they used to hang out away from the rest of the cousins and shown him how Kurt Cobain killed himself: he put the cap gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and after the dull pop Marky blew the resulting smoke out of his nose.
So to cut a long story short, wrote Warren, this started a discussion about guns, a topic on which the brothers could expound with fervour and precision. Warren said he found it mostly amusing until Maxwell whispered at him to look under the table and he saw that Walton had a snub-nosed revolver pointed at him with the hammer pulled back. The brothers both burst out laughing as Warren fell out of his chair, and then Walton told him to relax, that of course he wasn’t going to shoot him. Then Maxwell stopped laughing abruptly and said there’s no worse way to go than getting gutshot.