Visiting writer re-imagines history's great duels

Arizona Western College is very proud to welcome Michael Garriga as 2018’s Distinguished Visiting Writer. You will not want to miss this one.

The interior jacket of Garriga’s The Book of Duels reads:

“In the seconds before gunpowder explodes or a sword is drawn, the duelist is driven by one of our simplest dispositions: kill or be killed. The manifestations of that horrible moment are Michael Garriga’s primary concern. What pride courses through a bird strutting for his life in Louisiana’s last legal cockfight? What did Alexander Hamilton think when he witnessed the fatal bloom of Aaron Burr’s gun? What drove Cain to murder?”

Jealousy, lust, revenge, honor, fame, and infamy haunt the pages of Garriga’s debut fiction collection The Book of Duels. Each complete story is told in three parts: Each combatant is given voice over their mutual grievance, and finally, there must be a witness for the duel to be considered proper and legal. The collection contains 33 such tales, historical, Biblical and even historical re-imaginations of the moments just before one combatant dies and the other walks away.

Garriga’s language is alive throughout these beautifully lush (and often darkly humorous) duels where the highest stakes are wagered upon the page. We find some familiar Biblical and literary friends in these tales: David vs Goliath, Cain vs Abel, St. George vs The Dragon, Don Quixote vs the Windmill (who, as it turns out, really is a giant in disguise).

But we also are delighted by some unexpected contributions to an eclectic collection. For example, “Julius vs I Am” is told through the unique perspective of two gamecocks ready to let blood. In the final tale, even the author is not immune to his own fictionalized predilections as Shoulder Angel duels Shoulder Demon for the very control of the author’s soul.

It seems fitting that The Book of Duels is dedicated to Pulitzer Prize Winner and recent AWC Distinguished Visiting Writer Robert Olen Butler, who says of the book, “Garriga has instantly established himself as both a master of that profoundly modern literary form, the short short story, and a master of the human condition. The Book of Duels is one of the most extraordinary first books of fiction I’ve ever read.”

Ultimately, Garriga is a poet and a fabulist, obsessed with the sensuous details of a visceral life – even the ugly parts. His work straddles the fences of two very different literary sensibilities. Fabliaux and farce, high seriousness and dark comedy combine to weave tales that are raw, necessary, funny and heartbreaking.

You’ll come for a wild ride through a bygone past and stay as Garriga enraptures you as an expert storyteller.

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