Much of nearly-14-year-old Digby Shaw’s life takes place downstairs. At his house, he combines TV with homework: “[M]y brain wandered off into a weird cloudy world where Henry Wallace was shooting electrical bolts shaped like circular saw blades out of the side of his hand, and Ultraman was the one shaking the hands of regular old Americans who worked with their own hands.” In Brenda Breschbay’s basement, he attends a “loser party,” where he stuffs himself with pigs-in-blankets and plays an all-boy game of Twister: “That was no fun. The whole point of Twister was to twist around a stacked girl and then act like your wrist gave out so you could grab at her butt on the way down.”
Just-turned-40-year-old author Sean EnrightDigby’s creatorcites a quotation that inspired him and then rummages in his Kensington, Md., basement files to find it. It’s by Allan Bloom: “The hope of such a poet is that what the past tried to do with him, he will succeed in doing with the past.”
What Enright did with his past was transform it into Goof and Other Stories, in which a curious, Catholic Everyboy studies sea urchins; receives wedgies, pinkbellies, tittie-twisters, and Spocks; cops a couple of feels; tortures his kid brother; and ruminates on the nature of the soul: “If you go into a coma, does your soul also go into one?”
“It’s Digby, in the space of 24 hours, telling things as he knows them,” says Enright of his short-story collection. “He’s being utterly true to his thoughts and feelings.”
And true, mostly, to the young Enright’s thoughts and feelings. A few years ago, Enright was looking through the notes and clippings he’d saved for decades: “I used to think, When I write about childhood, this is what I’ll use,” he says. “I sat down writing. I made 40 pages of notes. As I wrote, things came flooding back to me.” Like Digby, Enright grew up Catholic in a close-knit Bethesda neighborhood, the St. Jane DeChantal parish. But Enright took liberties with his family in creating Digby’s; whereas Digby is the second of four children, “I have four sisters and two brothers, and I had to composite them. I got a lot of shit for that.”
“It should be called Goof: A Gutted Novel,” Enright jokes. “It was a novel, originally, and about twice as long.” It took him two years to finish the first draft “and another two years of sending it around and getting it banged back for being too long.” Finally, he found a publisherCreative Arts Book Companythat was willing to accept a scaled-back version.
Enright is what Digby might have grown up to be: no longer a “goof,” with love handles and broken glasses and abominable hygiene, but a smooth dude with a wife and kids, an Internet-engineer day job, a career as a poet and fiction writer, and a suburban rec room to call his very own.
Since Goof was published, Enright has replaced writing and editing the book with promoting it and “opening it up” via readings. “I’ve read maybe 10 times in six months. I’ve been much more performance-oriented.” Pamela Murray Winters
Enright will read from Goof and Other Stories at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Barnes & Noble, 4801 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, Md.