Mark Chiusano

Mark Chiusano

Marine Park — Mark Chiusano’s Marine Park is a touching portrait of the places and people of suburban New York.

The stories in Marine Park focus on the little things; a shopping trip, a hair cut, a pair of siblings shovelling snow – but in the deft hands of Mark Chiusano these things aren’t little at all. The young literary talent captures the beauty and truth in these daily dramas and reveals, subtly, the myriad ways that people quietly need each other.

Set in Marine Park, a suburban part of Brooklyn virtually unreachable by train, the collection of short stories sees an eccentric man pat the heads of neighbourhood kids in ‘Palms’, follows an outbreak of herpes in ‘Clean’ and offers a heartbreaking elegy on a relationship that never was in ‘We Were Supposed’.

Where Chiusano really shines though is in his depictions of family life. Many of these stories beautifully dissect the relationship between two brothers, the Faveros, as they come of age on the margins of the city that never sleeps.

Here Mark talks to Huck about getting to the heart of the matter.

People can have a tendency to think of short stories as precursors to novels. What is it that appeals to you about writing, and reading, short stories? 
Personally I like short stories because, as I heard Junot Díaz say once, they can be perfect. They rarely turn out that way (although his pretty often are), but that possibility is tantalising, that you can really get your hands on this thing and make it do exactly what you want it to do. That comes across in the reading too, I think, that every sentence can be perfect.  All that being said, someday I’d like to write a novel because I still feel that a novel is the best thing to get lost in; it has more time in it, the reader’s, writer’s, and characters’.  Plus it’s nice to read or write something messy too.

You’re very young to have a published collection of stories, was there any advice or guidance that’s helped you get to where you are?
I think the best advice I ever heard was something that Denis Johnson said, about how he writes for two minutes every day—usually he ends up writing far more than that, but it allows him to make sure that he’ll sit down and write every day.  I started doing that in college, and at first it was literally two minutes, which felt like forever, and eventually you start building up. I’ll be 24 in August, so hopefully plenty of time to realise that everything I’ve been doing is totally wrong and start again from scratch.

Why did you choose Marine Park as the place that ties all your stories together?
Marine Park is super on the outskirts, especially if you look at it on a train map — it’s one of the biggest spaces on the map where there’s no subway. So you’re obviously from the city but there’s a little bit of friction. The city’s way away over there like a snowglobe; or Marine Park is the snowglobe, one or the other.

You get a good sense of something like that (way more solidified) in one of my favourite books right now, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family. It’s an unbelievably vivid nonfiction account about life in a tough part of the Bronx. The young characters at one point get a limo that takes them to Times Square and the driver says, where do you want to go, but they can’t think of anywhere in Manhattan so they drive back to local spots in the Bronx, a favourite park bench for one.

The outskirts philosophy is definitely a way to write fiction, too: one of my favorite writers, Jim Shepard, is famous for his historical stories that often follow a minor character through major historical events — a worn-out baseball player who goes to Cuba and bats against Castro; lovers on the Hindenburg. I always like stories that slowly but surely work their way in from the outside to the heart of the matter.

How do you first conceive of stories. Do you begin with a plot idea or a character’s voice?
I’d be a fool or a liar if I said I knew exactly what I was doing! But the stories all started in different ways.  The string of Favero family stories started while I was in Switzerland one summer playing for a baseball team (only place that would let me keep playing baseball…). One of the kids on a team I was helping to assistant-coach had a brother named Lorris, and somehow the name just clicked. I started writing a story about a brother, Lorris, and air-conditioners (I still think of them as the “Lorris stories”), and then sort of kept growing out the Marine Park world.

Actually maybe that’s another good way of talking about the outskirts thing too, that it’s sometimes easier to write about something if you’re far away from it, in time or distance. Eventually, you get home (though I’d happily still be playing baseball abroad of course, or for any professional team in the US if they’d like to have an average hitter and really spectacular batting practice thrower like me).

Mark Chiusano’s Marine Park is out now, published by Penguin Books.