The Cleveland Plain Dealer
(October 1998)

Sunday Magazine


    But while Lattimore’s art was beginning to jell, his marriage was falling apart.
"Steve was going through a very difficult time at Iowa," says Brady Udall, a writer who attended the Iowa Workshop with Lattimore and who now teaches English at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. "He was breaking up with his wife. And I don’t know what part that played in his writing, but there was this sudden emergence in his writing. His work was suddenly great and he was being published everywhere."
Lattimore’s stories feature ordinary people who find strange epiphanies in hopeless moments. The men, women and children of Lattimore’s imagination cope with the problems of poverty, violence, ignorance and the despair those conditions breed.
"If I had to identify a theme in my writing, I’d say that much of it is about adults who refuse to grow up and children who are forced to grow up early as a result," Lattimore says.
Udall calls Lattimore’s style "Raymond Carver with humor."
But there was little humor in Lattimore’s life. He blamed himself for the end of his marriage.
"It’s yet another example of me outsmarting myself," Lattimore says. "I married Susan in an attempt to deny who I was. She was so different than me or my family. She was like an idealized version of myself. But she was also someone I could never be like. Another theme of my writing is about how people always create their own problems. Or at least I do, anyway."
The couple was divorced by 1996. Lattimore has since lost contact with her.
"If I had to choose between going through a divorce or more cancer, I’d take cancer every time," Lattimore says. "The pain and the guilt were killing."
The year before the divorce became final, Lattimore had Marni Lubinski, an undergraduate student four years his junior, in class. After she graduated, the two of them became a pair.
"When Steve and I got together, it was just instant," Marni says. "We spent every minute together. He was a little reticent about getting married again right after his divorce, but I knew he was the one. He just took a little convincing."
The couple married in July 1996. At that time, Lattimore was in the middle of a two-year postgraduate Stegner Fellowship for Creative Writing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He found a literary agent, Noah Lukeman, who was just starting his own agency. Lukeman read one of Lattimore’s stories in a literary magazine.
"Getting first-time collections of short stories published is a very tough thing to do these days," Lukeman says. "It’s a one-in-a-thousand shot."
Nineteen publishers turned down the book. The 20th, Houghton Mifflin, agreed to pay Lattimore $50,000 for a two-book deal. The first book would be his collection of short stories called "Circumnavigation." The second would be a novel.
Sales of hardcover books were down 5 percent last year. Paperback sales were down 7 percent. With numbers like that, unknown writers have largely stayed that way.
"He’s the real thing," says Pat Strachan, Lattimore’s editor at Houghton Mifflin. "He’s a natural."

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