HITTING SHELVES #42: Exes by Max Winter

Exes by Max Winter comes out today! It’s a heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-fragments, in which Clay Blackall compiles the stories of longtime residents of Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to understand his brother Eli’s death and the city that has defined and ruined them both.

Fiction Advocate: Max! How are you celebrating the publication of Exes?

Max Winter: I guess I already did? Because even though Exes’ official release date is April 11, Amazon shipped their copies two weeks early, which completely caught me off guard. (But I worked media retail in the pre-Internet Age, when these dates were inviolate. Except for the new Sinatra box when Liv Tyler or Richard Hell were asking.) It felt thrilling, of course—knowing the book was finally in readers’ hands—but because my author’s copies hadn’t even arrived yet, it also felt an awful lot like having blacked out at a wedding. “Ohmygod, you don’t remember? You were so funny and/or mean!”

But nevertheless I’m going to go ahead and observe Exes’ official release day, because you can’t spend 15 years writing a book and not take a moment once it actually becomes one. I will spend the morning much as I had on its actual release date: teaching college. But maybe this time I won’t also get called in to sub, so I’ll go visit a bookstore and see my book on the shelves, at some point after Wideman and right before Winterson. I’ll probably cry. I mean, there’s a reason why everybody started seeing Snuffalupagus, too, at some point between when I stopped watching Sesame Street and when my son started watching it. (We mostly showed him the old ones, though, on DVD. But when I was that age I also traded the superhero cape my mom sewed me for somebody else’s invisible friend, so what do I know?)

Max Winter

Then I’ll pick up my son from school, and my wife from work, and we’ll go to our favorite Sichuan restaurant, because we couldn’t the last time we were supposed to—nor the time before that—because I had been working on revisions, or one of these promo pieces, or on critiques. And also because we were too broke to eat out. But today, we’ll say fuck it. There will be a double order of Chengdu dumplings, plus cucumbers and greens. Then Guangzhou tofu, for sure. And something in chili oil. Lamb, probably. Or intestines, tripe and blood, if my son has anything to say about it. Which he will, and should, given how patient and forgiving he’s been, all these years—just like his Mama. And, just like his Mama, he’s never known me not writing Exes. Olivia liked to call the book our roommate. He slept on the couch, drank our booze, left the toilet seat up and the milk out and the door unlocked. And now that he’s almost old enough to drive, we’re giving him the boot.

Later, when we get home, I’ll open up a bottle of wine exactly as old as my book. And I’ll pour some for me and my wife, without whom there would be no book to begin with. Because while it’s true that I had been working on something before I met her, I had no idea what, and it probably never would’ve been worth the effort. No, it took years of Olivia telling me stories and also telling me, “Oui, ça c’est génial,” and, “Non, mais ça c’est con,” for what would eventually become Exes to become Exes. Besides, my book and I have had enough days. Today is for you.

Max Winter is a graduate of UC Irvine’s MFA program, and a recipient of two Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowships in Fiction. He has been published in Day One and Diner Journal. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife and son.

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