It is easy, if not natural, to compare John Fulton to J.D Salinger. Fulton does, after all, often write about adolescents – intelligent, wry, insightful adolescents – and he does so convincingly. Fulton’s young narrators are genuine, caught in the crossfire of Raymond Carver-esque family conflict, and they give the same infallibility to a young voice that Salinger so aptly achieved decades ago. But much of Fulton’s universe is one untrodden by Holden Caulfield. It is not the city or prep school – it is a world where kids dream of grocery shopping without coupons, where father is angry at his ex-wife for choosing his son’s braces over the prized Mercedes, where a road trip to Montana with a reckless mother ends up in an erratic roadside crime. And Fulton’s landscape is the American West – often Utah, where Fulton grew up. The landscape’s vastness lends itself nicely to his remarkable stories of the conflict and emptiness of everyday people.
Fulton, a graduate of the University M.F.A. program and current University professor, will be reading tomorrow night in Davidson Hall. He has published two books – “Retribution,” his debut short story collection and “More than Enough,” a novel.
“What’s compelling about the figures that I write about who are torn between mothers and fathers and this side and that side,” Fulton told The Michigan Daily, “is that there is still some innocence looking on corruption, and trying to figure out: How can I act in a way where I can still feel good? And the answer often is: I can’t. The dilemma of that situation is interesting to me.”
“More than Enough” is the story of Steven, a 15-year-old who is beat up by Mormon kids almost immediately upon moving to Salt Lake City with his family. When the Parkers receive a settlement from the accident, the upper-class life they always dreamed of seems within their reach. Before long, the money is gone and the familial conflict unearths itself – his sister Jenny wants to be Mormon and popular; his mother is convinced it’s time to leave her unemployed husband. The family affirms its quiet agony upon Steven, and the result is a sharp and sensitive narrator that leads the story deftly through its honest realism.
“The conflict of religion is a really interesting one, and I feel like characters dealing with it are more real. Salt Lake is a great stage for that,” Fulton said. “One of the things that the novel is interested in is belief, and conviction – to what the world is just what it is, and to what degree to which a belief in something can make the world more than it is.”
“Retribution,” the award-winning and masterful collection that established Fulton as a new literary voice, is a stunning (and necessary) read. He released “More than Enough” only a year later, and has just completed his obligatory book tour, all the while maintaining his teaching position. “It’s get on a plane in the afternoon, read in front of 10 or 15 people if you’re lucky, crash at the hotel, get up at 5 a.m., catch a 6 a.m. plane, and make a 9 a.m. class,” Fulton recounts; “It’s terrible.” He is currently working on some “very long stories, one of which is the first I’ve written outside the West; it takes place in Ann Arbor.”
“Books are beautiful things, literature is beautiful stuff. In a very humble way, I would like to be a part of that,” Fulton says. “When I sit at the desk and something comes out – it’s this thrilling thing; it’s the most exciting experience I could ask for.”