Lynne Tillman’s This Is Not It by Nell McClister

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 81 Fall 2002
BOMB 081

Lynne Tillman introduces the titular story in her new collection with a lament from Wittgenstein: “If I were only somewhere else than in this lousy world!” Always talking to the wrong people in the wrong places, always buying and reading the wrong books and then forgetting and buying them again, the narrator finally observes, “Whatever I have is not what I should have. Whatever makes me happy ultimately makes me sad.” The brief tale, told in stanza-like paragraphs, neatly captures the air of resigned anguish and dark humor that pervades these short stories and novellas, written by Tillman over the past 20 years. As her several novels also attest, Tillman’s greatest talent is for drawing the reader into the permutations of her characters’ fears and frustrations.

What is remarkable about this collection is that the characters’ pain seems to find a form of redemption in the works of art that are reproduced in color throughout the volume. Most of these stories originally appeared in limited-edition artists’ books, having been inspired by particular works of art or series; here each is rejoined by an example of the artwork from the original publication. In these images—works by Jane Dickson, Roni Horn, Juan Muñoz, Barbara Kruger, Peter Dreher, and others—we find a kind of portal from “this lousy world” that Tillman draws with her sharp, ironic pen. Of course, in its original site of publication, it would have been Tillman’s contribution that provided the breathing space for the artwork. Tillman is a pioneer of fiction as art writing; her stories are meant to accompany, not comment on, the art, and as such they exist in tension with it as a kind of collaborative project. When the pairings work—here, for instance, a stark James Welling photograph, all angles and contrasts, with a swirling tale of sex and skiing; and an eerie image by Gary Schneider of his young daughter’s outstretched hand that opens a previously unpublished series of vignettes titled Hold Me—whether the writing is seen to complement the art or vice versa, the transformative respite that the accompaniment provides is something of a primrose path.


—Nell McClister


This Is Not It will be published by D.A.P. in November.

Words Without Pictures by Lynne Tillman
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Cover photo of Jonas Eika's After the Sun which is the title with swirly bright colors all around it.

A collection of short stories by the Danish author addressing global class crisis and inequality.

Announcing the Winner of BOMB’s 2021 Fiction Contest
Author photo of Edward Salem, who has a beard and short hair. He is wearing a shirt open at the color and is standing in front of a gray wooden fence.

Congrats to Edward Salem, the winner of this year’s Fiction Contest!

Pay Attention to the Humming: Ethan Rutherford Interviewed by Paul Yoon
Lime book cover with burgundy tree and blue leaves titled "Farthest South"

A story collection about parenting in a post-apocalyptic world.

Originally published in

BOMB 81, Fall 2002

Featuring interviews with Jane Hammond, Walid Ra’ad, Martina Kudlacek, Mahmoud Darwish, Jeffrey Eugenides, Steve Reich, Beryl Korot, and Christopher Shinn

Read the issue
BOMB 081