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Dzanc Books is nonprofit press specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. In addition to publishing activities, Dzanc Books also supports the Disquiet International Literary Program.

The Art of the Knock, by Philip Graham

rEprint Series Ebooks

The Art of the Knock, by Philip Graham

Graham - The Art of the Knock - Final Cover.jpg
Graham - The Art of the Knock - Final Cover.jpg

The Art of the Knock, by Philip Graham

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In the three-part title story of The Art of the Knock, a travelling salesman knocks with inventive delight on the stubborn, closed doors of his prospective customers—people who find themselves on the wrong side of their own invisible doors.  In the face of their mutual solitudes, they devise odd, personal rituals that connect and isolate them at the same time.  Two lonely parents, their children grown and far away, begin to adopt and then fight over the light bulbs in their house; a husband returns home to discover that every lie he ever told his wife has been spray-painted on the walls; an elderly man’s ghost cannot bear to leave his mourning wife’s side.

Out of these unspoken patterns, they create a kind of art that reveals both the beauty and danger of the imagination.  The Art of the Knock, by turns funny, frightening and sad, combines the fantastic with the ordinary to probe the hidden patterns of our inner worlds.

From the new introduction by Kyle Minor:

“We begin in the idea that we’re reading detachable ‘Stories,’ yet we soon realize we’re in the midst of a terrible, fearful, and ultimately wonderful design, which emerges slowly as we move through it, which has direction and symmetry, in which the preoccupations recur and recur, and in which all the parts are in conversation.”

Praise for The Art of the Knock

“This very serious work of fiction contains some of the funniest prose I have ever read . . . precise and beautiful details dazzle us for a while; then we realize that something ominous is hovering just above this funny prose.”

–Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle

“The stories in Philip Graham’s first book of fiction are charged with an insouciant blend of playfulness and menace. Pondering The Art of the Knock, we are as likely to break into a smile as to debate its mysteries. We are in the presence of a young writer whose wit lights up the dark night of loneliness . . . there is no question of a quietly insistent artistry at work here, laying the groundwork for yet greater art to come.”

–Dan Cryer, Newsday

“Philip Graham’s funny and disquieting stories are encased in two layers of desolate metaphor.  The desolation penetrates; a vaudeville show held inside a leaky bomb shelter sited within a zone of chemical spillage . . . We deal, in Graham’s age, with each other’s symptoms and not with each other.  All seeing is through a glass darkly and nothing will be face-to face.  Through this glass, his brief stories, part parable, part fantasy, go through their shadowed play . . . [T]he reader meets an original and febrile talent [and] quite a bit is, in the way of art, symptom of diseases we are only beginning to notice.”

–Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

Author Bio

 Philip Graham is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including the story collections The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney's dispatches from Lisbon.  He is the co-author (with his wife, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb) of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and Braided Worlds.  His work has been reprinted in Germany, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

Graham’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the Washington Post.  The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, two Illinois Arts Council awards, and the William Peden Prize in Fiction, Graham teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  A founding editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter, he has served as the fiction and nonfiction editor, and as an editor-at-large for the journal’s website. His posts on the craft of writing can be found at