STRETCHYHEAD BY IAN TUTTLE: the beautiful complexities of ghost hunting in a found city

“Upon finishing Ian Tuttle‘s, StretchyHead, (PAC Books, 2011) I wanted every aspiring writer in San Francisco to read it. Though mostly only if you lived in San Francisco and were an aspiring writer.

The second time I finished it I wanted to go to these places, place my head down ear flat on counters and bars and look for the perspiration of these characters. I would be best off calling that ghost hunting, but I wanted to do it. To know them, a little more.

“He Slides his bad hand towards her, keeping it flat on the bar, palm down. The small bumps on his knuckles look polished and pink. When she touches them he knows he can’t really feel her—the nerves have all been ruined—but the way she touches them, with curious caresses, he imagines that he can.”  – Lucky 13

In turning these pages to new stories I heard car horns, rustling leaves and distant cafe conversations. I heard San Francisco. I heard them because these are changeovers, the sound of leaving a scene. StretchyHead contains twenty four of these tight casually strong scenes that take place mostly at bars and restaurants (each story named after the venue that inspired it).

As Tuttle leaves these scenes he does so with a different walk every time, sometimes slamming bar doors: “The room exploded in atomic cheer. The clapping roared Niagara; whistles sparked like comet tails. He’d said it. He had said it! And they got it! And they got it” (Radio Habana Social Club). Sometimes he tiptoes out of the scenes: “She had never been to Canada, but it sounded very nice right now. It sounded like a cold river” (Gott’s Roadside). Either way I turned the page in wonder at where he would drop me next as these stories begin without stark abruption. And for that reason I searched for a link between them, though I only came to find a city, only a city. And I wanted these incredibly human characters to interact, to pass each other on the streets but I knew they did anyway, as San Francisco is, after all, quite small.

Of course there is the possibility that all these stories happened at the same time, as they do seem to last for what seems like less than ten minutes. Which would be a momentous ten minutes, right? Maybe though, in a city, that would be just like any other ten minutes. Which makes life beautifully complex. And that is perhaps what I like the most about the composition of this book: these stories average two full pages—their smallness not at all intimidating—yet, combined, they leave the reader breathless.

Between Daniel’s heroic marathon at the claw machine of Eggettes and the desperate causality of Gregor’s mom’s haircut at Humphrey Slocumb, how could one not want to chase after these characters? I’ve been sold so well on these stories I’ve surpassed the idea of fiction in reading them—ghost hunting, as I said. Ghost hunting, however, is a wild goose chase, and if you would like to take it up with me I suggest you buy and read StretchyHead by one Ian Tuttle.

 – Sean Taylor

Tuttle will be reading from StretchyHead at Green Apple Books on Wednesday, Feb 22