Egolf, Tristan 1971-
EGOLF, Tristan 1971-
PERSONAL: Male. Born 1971. Education: Attended Temple University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Grove Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Skirt and the Fiddle, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Tristan Egolf, the son of a writer and an artist, has lived in Europe and in several locations in the United States, including Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. On a farm there he cared for chickens, sheep, and pigs, an experience that would later figure in the writing of his first novel.
Egolf is also a musician, and his Philadelphia band was offered a contract before he moved to Paris. He left before they began recording, knowing that if he stayed, he would have no time to write. In Paris he wrote every day in a tiny room and sometimes played his guitar on the Pont des Arts to pick up a few francs. One cold day, he was invited for coffee by Maria Modiano, daughter of French novelist Patrick Modiano, who sits on the reading committee of the publisher Gallimard. Modiano welcomed the young American into his home and acted as his mentor. Gallimard bought Egolf's novel and sold the English-language rights to Picador, a London house, and it was also published in several other languages. Before it was released in Paris, Lord of the Barnyard: Killingthe Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Corn Belt had been rejected in the United States by seventy-six publishers.
Laura Miller noted in the New York Times Book Review that Lord of the Barnyard "is exactly the sort of fauvist extravaganza Europeans welcome as quintessentially American: brash, vigorous, violent and crude." The story is set in Baker, a town in an unnamed state. John Kaltenbrunner is the son of a coal mine foreman killed by a methane gas explosion before John was born. John is an antisocial young man who has a knack for raising poultry and sheep, preferring them to school and most people. At the age of nine, he is already an expert who can discuss chicken farming with adults and who has turned the family farm into a productive operation. This, in turn, makes him the target of the other children, who call him a freak and beat him at every chance, and later the high school principal, who liberally hands out his detentions. Most frightening are the church ladies referred to as the "Methodist Crones," who would take the farm from John's mother.
John turns violent in standing up for his rights and is sentenced to three years in a work-release program. When he is freed, he returns to Baker to settle the score. He kills and guts chickens in a poultry plant and works at other low-wage jobs before becoming a garbage collector at a landfill, where he precipitates a crisis in the town by organizing a garbage strike. Egolf paints the townspeople with negative strokes. They are ultra-conservative, corrupt, ignorant, inbred, racist, alcoholic, vulgar, and contemptible, and they live miserable lives.
James Crossley noted in Contemporary Review of Fiction that Egolf "occasionally troubles to delineate personalities beyond the social roles and manages to evoke sympathy for his grotesques, although they are not allowed to speak for themselves."
Henry Hitchings wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "all the dregs of Appalachia are fermented and distilled to produce a harsh, strange brew, disarming in its richness. The prose in which Egolf retails events is by turns rapid, arresting, lush, subtle, droll and brashly neologistic. In the entire book, there is not a shred of orthodox dialogue, but its pages reverberate with mutant sociolects, odd concatenations, myth, drama, and a ludic zest."
The story reads like an eyewitness account, told by a resident of Baker. Miller faulted the novel for having no dialogue and for some "awkward sentences," but said that it is "refreshing … to read a new novelist whose prose hasn't been manicured to lifeless perfection by too many fiction-writing workshops. … Egolf has a terrific story under all that guff, one charged with dramatic conflict and built on a scale that can encompass both individual passions and the inchoate mind of a community. … Then there's the tremendous energy fueling Egolf's prose—part of it rage, yes, but also an infectious exuberance for words and the telling of tales. Thousands of young writers produce pages of lambent, flawless sentences without anywhere near this much life in them."
Salon.com reviewer Mark Luce wrote that Egolf "practices a form of shotgun writing—aim in the right direction and spray words on the page—always searching for another country-fried turn of phrase that will one-up his last one. Even when the prose is overwritten, though, it sizzles."
Various reviewers compared the novel to the work of William Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon. Booklist's Thomas Gaughan felt that it is to be compared to John Kennedy O'Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces because of its publishing history and its content, and added that "this is an epic, energetic, vivid, funny, tragic, insightful, vulgar, and wonderfully odd book. … a lowercase American novel." A Publishers Weekly contributor called Lord of the Barnyard "a wild ride of a book, prone to stretches of excess, but also possessed of a manic, epic energy."
In reviewing Egolf's second novel, Skirt and the Fiddle, Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Jean Charbonneau said that Egolf "loves to create mayhem, and he's extremely good at it." The protagonist of this 2002 novel is Charlie Evans, a discouraged violinist who lives somewhere on the East Coast in Philth Town with a cast of cartoonish characters that includes Tinsel Greetz, his anarchist buddy. The pair work as rat bounty hunters in the sewers below the city and wreak havoc in the lives of everyone with whom they come in touch. Charbonneau wrote that "everything is over-the-top" and called the book "Felliniesque." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that "the rat passages are truly nauseating and yet, when walking-catastrophe Greetz stumbles onto the scene, also truly amusing." The writer called Skirt and the Fiddle a story of "bite and raging intellect."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 1998, Thomas Gaughan, review of Lord of the Barnyard: Killing the Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Corn Belt, p. 725.
Interview, January, 1999, Brad Goldfarb, "Rejection Turns Gold," p. 24.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Skirt and the Fiddle, p. 825.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Jim Coan, review of Skirt and the Fiddle, p. 141.
New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1999, Laura Miller, review of Lord of the Barnyard, p. 10; September 15, 2002, John Hartl, review of Skirt and the Fiddle, p. 25.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), September 22, 2002, Jean Charbonneau, review of Skirt and the Fiddle, p. J11.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1998, Herbert L. Lottman, "Discovered in Paris: A Startling American Heartland Novel," p. 9; December 21, 1998, review of Lord of the Barnyard, p. 51.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1999, James Crossley, review of Lord of the Barnyard,, p. 170.
Times (London, England), June 27, 1998, Lottie Moggach, review of Lord of the Barnyard, p. 22.
Times Literary Supplement, June 5, 1998, Henry Hitchings, "An All-American Hell," p. 23.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (March 1, 1999), Mark Luce, review of Lord of the Barnyard.*