While not totally unknown (he has a Facebook fan page), Gary Lutz is at least uncharacteristic and difficult as a writer. His style is unsympathetic, distant, and a sometimes challenging maze of prepositions and conjunctions ("Every song was the worst way I could think of to ask for what I did not yet know how not to want." quoted from Stories in the Worst Way, his first collection of short fiction). When talking about breaking down stories into their constituent parts and discussing the primary component from which fiction is built—the sentence—writers talk about Lutz as a sort of "transgressive" vanguard. His stories are less narratives than collections of individual meta-theses on what sentences have to do with story-telling. All this is done while attempting to simulate a short story.
From The Believer January 2009, a quote from a transcript of a lecture:
"A pausing, enraptured reader should be able to look deeply into the sentence and discern among the words all of the traits and characteristics they share. The impression to be given is that the words in the sentence have lived with each other for quite some time, decisive time, and have deepened, grown and matured in each other's company—and that they cannot live without each other."
Most of Lutz's fictions are short ("Devotions," from Stories, is all of 1,179 words) and with expectations like those noted in the quote, they have no choice but to be. The sentences' intentions are too compacted to be longer, too concentrated. His stories save word space (and bolster their syntactic avant-gardism) by purposefully forgoing the familiar skeleton of the short story: little to no discernable plot, protagonists that with cloudy intentions, sexualities, and genders. It is, of course, these very omissions that make Lutz so fascinating. His style engenders a dream-world state, one in that the reader is never sure exactly what will happen or why. While Lutz uses the metaphor of words in sentences needing each other to live, his characters don't seem to follow the same rules. They barely seem alive at all— partly due to the fact the narrators are unnamed and the stories are all in the first person making it difficult to distinguish one from another. In fact, they seem to need little except a theater for their internal agonies.
Student fiction writers often err on the side of mystery, giving away almost nothing of a character's intentions and desires. The idea being obvious things in fiction are boring, and, well, obvious. Lutz revels in the concept of the anti-obvious. Named characters, recognizable places, palatable relationships often don't exist. Instead scatological afflictions, sexual acts that seem devoid of pleasure or meaning ("Slucky" is a rather memorable adjective used describe movements during sex with an older woman), post-modern emptiness guarded in twisted prose that is, at times, a chore to parse, are more narrative than thematic. Lutz's stories are about the sentences and the sentences are also about the sentences.
In an interview in the February 2006 issue of The Believer, Ross Simonini characterizes Lutz's prose as "untraditionally beautiful," which is only half accurate. Lutz's style is arguably ugly and disjointed, resolutely so, and to confuse beauty with its opposite is doing a disservice to the work of the writer. There is no beauty to be found in these stories, but Lutz makes alluring fiction out of the detritus of post-modern life.