Garth Miro: Burning Down The Idol of Vacations
Author photo courtesy of Garth Miro
Garth Miro's debut novel, The Vacation, is the batshit, seasick summer read of 2022—if your beach is made of quicksand. Miro's character Hugo is slowly swallowed by his own well-meaning horizon, trapped on a cruise ship to appease his pregnant wife while he's only a precarious two weeks off heroin; as they say, hilarity ensues. It's slowly revealed a sort of "relaxation cult" is running the ship, and not a tight one—every rope unravels into frayed double-wicks until Hugo gets burned in full immersion. There's drunken sun-stroked bumbling, pirates attacking—it's so action-packed, even Hugo's cowardly venting feels swashbuckling. A commentary on the grotesque nature of the mediocre, while critiquing ubiquitous "wellness" culture, The Vacation finds itself in a perfect imbalance; you'll even learn the average number of people who accidentally fall off cruise ships never to be found again.
The Vacation seems like a complex analogy, yet it also reads very straight and literal. When did you know you were going to write a novel about a cruise ship; or was this just a vast mask for something more sinister?
Complex analogy? If one’s in there, it certainly wasn’t put there by me. I didn’t know what I was doing beyond: burn down the Idol of Vacations. This work/vacation cycle we worship has given us a perverse incarnation of living. It’s actually moronic, abstaining in hopes that some dream future will grow out of it. Nothing grows out of a dead, abstinent life. The soil of nothing only grows larger and more profound nothing. I don’t blame anybody; this was taught to us young by our rich overlords, so we got busy working. The promise of a vacation will make up for lost life now. The main character is this type, who worked and lived the “right way,” and he thinks it’ll all pay off, and then he finds, right when we find him, that not only has it not, but that the rest of the world is not even playing by those rules, and in fact they’re using them against him. How is a smooth nub-human, used to nothing, supposed to know how to appreciate freedom? It kills you. You ever see what happens when very poor people win the lottery?
Beyond all that, I think delving too far into the unconscious of a story is dangerous. That stuff comes from somewhere, some godly realm. If we focus on it too much, pet or prod it, it will be crushed, it will get angry and show us just how little we deserve. A magic trick uncovered reveals the harsh banality of life. Something dies, and a story can’t, so it must be something in us.
If you want some direction, what I would say is: you know that feeling you get when someone is smiling at you, acting nice, but the hairs on the back of your neck are still standing up, like they sense a malignant boiling right under the surface, like maybe this smiling person is actually about to take that letter opener there on the desk and stick it through your very favorite cheek? Well, this is like that. This book smiles at you, and tries to make you laugh, but underneath there is something much darker, much more troubling.
It’s been called a “funny” novel. I laughed out loud at parts; other sections are so deliciously absurd that it throws the comedic needle so far in the red it becomes serious again. Personally, when I write, I never know something is going to be funny until someone points it out to me later. Do you write with intention to be “funny,” or is laughter a happy accident after the fact?
Shit, now I have to say something funny here or I’m just a hack. What a sinister question. You should feel bad about that question. I want to be cool enough to say I don’t ever try to be funny, but I do. But I don’t try hard! I actually like more to start off with a premise that’s intended to disgust, or get someone mad, and then work to reel them back in from that point. I also like the challenge of pushing something to see how far it goes. And then, I do also think some of the funniest things I’ve ever written happened on accident. So I guess I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
Speaking of needles, heroin, or at least its shadow, plays more than a bit part in the story’s tension, as Hugo is stuck on the cruise ship only a couple weeks off the horse, and its presence makes for a really satisfying ending. What is it about opiates and literature? Does the drug give authors a blind confidence in their work; like if he feels euphoric, does everything he writes have a simpatico intoxicating effect in his own mind? Or does it create a sincere conduit within the author where something is genuinely “unlocked,” even if it’s only his inhibitions?
I’m not going to say heroin is some key. For the most part, it eats up all your time. If you want to be a writer, you can go do it much easier without heroin. Does it give me a sort of moronic blind confidence? Yea, sure. When I’m right inside the infinitely small pinspot where I’m not too sick, and not too fucking high and nodding out, I maybe get a moment when I think I’m Miller; I write ten pages about fucking; I blow women’s socks off taking them through a rolodex of positions, each one they’re more happy to participate in than the next, and I fuck one woman in the back of a cab, and another in a movie theater, and then one, back to the first one—and she’s not mad about the second one—in front of a movie theater, the whole place cheering, cum time, cum time, cum time, and then I wake up the next day and go back and it’s all ridiculous shit.
I think more of what I do, what I believe is good, comes out of this dichotomy. Letting my id go and root around in whatever muck there is in my head, and then going back when I’m more sober, less forgiving—and it’s honestly best if I totally hate myself when looking at what the id-bastard found. So the two are sort of locked in war. They need each other to get bigger and better, motivate each other. The id needs to do further and bigger acts, lewd, lecherous, petty, and the other, colder, more rational side needs to become more disgusted, grow a bigger capacity for moralism and punishment. Those two forces pressing inward pop out a shiny wet pink version that’s really nice on the page.
Now, again, I’m never going to recommend heroin to anyone. Heroin eats more than it gives. But I can’t lie and say it hasn’t helped get me into situations I could then go and write about later. This whole book is about relaxing and indulging and the ideas that come out of debauch. So relaxing has its merits; I’m not some doomsman about drugs; I mean, Gerog Trakl did pretty good on coke, died from an overdose, and so did Exley, he wrote three books and was drunk his whole life, died drunk in an insane asylum. Substances can be a great way to go. But you will go, and it might be before you’ve done anything. You have to get lucky with the timing.
I loved seeing how many rules you break in your prose—like how you often tell instead of show, which works fantastic for Hugo’s fanatical narrative. Then, it was interesting to see you really leaning into exclamation points, which I’ve shunned from my writing; but again, it works so well for the book’s slapstick. It nearly becomes theater in its dramatic flair.
Rules…well, I don’t know most of the rules, so it’s pretty easy to break them. The ones I do know, I also break. I’ve always thought it was great when a writer is good enough to know the rules and then say, you know what, no, I’m just going to write how I personally like it, and then make it so good that their readers fall in love with the rule-breaking. I think that’s part of style. Having style in general. But I also think style, if done right, isn’t really “done” at all. I was just reading this article that said style is the byproduct of the life you live. Something like that. You do all these things in your life and they can’t help but seep into the words, whatever it is you are saying. I’ve mentioned I had a lot of hate in me when I wrote this, and I think you can feel that, more holistically, whether I’m talking about people relaxing on a beach, or a nice sandwich.
If we’re going to get specific, tell versus show to me is just like, well, it’s sometimes easier and more to the point to just tell the reader, “I felt like shit.” You don’t always need elaborate scaffolding. Sometimes, I like to build an idea up, and then rather than giving the reader this big pay off, pulling the rug out quickly and just telling them, “well, this cashier was a bitch.” I get a feeling of euphoria when I upset people like that.
While you and Jon Lindsey are your own distinct voice and your books are very different, about halfway through I thought, “Why does this feel like Body High to me?”— then I realized Sam Pink edited both your books. This is the first time I recognized a contemporary editor’s work just by reading it, without seeing the credit, which I think says a lot for Pink—that distinction. How did your book change through his involvement?
Jon Lindsey was my Sherpa, he led me to Sam Pink. Sam Pink is a thousand-year-old goatman who sits chewing the olive leaves of Hermes at the top of the mountain. We fought—I mean literally, we physically battled each other. He had me eat nothing but congee for ten years. He made me cut off the head of mice and drink the blood. His editing style is distinct and demanding. He is a genius. He had me kill a man.
While it’s got wild style, The Vacation is very much a plot-based novel, which seems a departure for Expat Press. Why do we see traditional narrative and linear plot being abandoned in so many young writer’s work today?
I have no idea. I personally can’t read something too long if I don’t feel like something is happening. I think because I watch a lot of movies, and most movies have plots. I’m not saying it has to be genre or anything, but some sort of foundation that holds it together is good, and in fact I think helps you explore deeper. It gives you a base to then rappel down into whatever darkness. I guess so many literary writers abandoned it because it’s seen as higher art to not have plot. I think they watched that interview with Bret Eason Ellis saying plot was embarrassing, or read what Bernhard said, or didn’t say; I don’t know, did he say anything? About plot? Any hint of plot has for awhile been scoffed at as low, or even worse, mid brow. The real true artists don’t utilize plot! They don’t utilize shit! Yea, and now they’re all wandering around in a barren wasteland of nonsense. You’ve got guys who went so far down inside their own heads they’re being shit out their asses. Body without organs? Fuck off. Knowing everything, every phenomenon and curse and human instinct is not some great and noble achievement—it’s spitting in God’s face. You’re not Lispector. You’re not interesting or vain enough. And maybe that sounds kind of fun, sure, to explore the wasteland of nonsense without the tether of plot, but most these guys are over-schooled squares; their heads aren’t that fun.
I met a guy at a party who went to Columbia who called himself a “creative nomad,” whatever that means, but it was very important to him, a very chic and intuitive title. I nodded along. Nodding goes far with these types of people. You don’t have to say much: they’ll take care of that. They are too arrogant, and so of course they’re also casual and heartless towards the subliminal world. The more they deny plot, the more you feel the plot of their mind encroaching; when they feel frustrated or jealous, all those things aren’t being conveyed intentionally, on a surface, because they’re trying their best to tamp down any intentional narrative, but you feel them in there, for how could you not feel jealousy in someone writing about a beautiful painting or movie, or most of all, someone else’s success. All ego and no id. I’m maybe all id. Maybe for my next book, I’ll ditch the plot and show all these true high-brow artists geniuses how to have fun down in the wasteland.
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