Dec 142012

“Keep the Change” is an exclusive excerpt from William Gillespie’s new novel experimental Keyhole Factory, published in November by Soft Skull Press. The novel is about a virus that comes close to destroying the human species. In “Keep the Change” the text replicates, as it were, into columns, more columns on each page as the virus gets worse (as in, the text replicates as the virus replicates). Gillespie is particular sort of experimental writer; he leans towards the Oulipo school of writerly constraint, as in the author adopts some self-limiting device that (de)forms his or her text. Any form is a source of constraint, but in the Oulipo mode constraint becomes the form. Thus Christian Bök’s book Eunoia consists of five chapters and in each chapter he uses words containing only one vowel. E.g. Chapter A uses words that only contain the vowel a. And Georges Perec’s novel A Void is written without the letter e. In preparing this excerpt for publication, Gillespie showed me another piece from the novel that is written like a musical score (we tried to figure out how we could publish it horizontally — as Gillespie said, “The page breaks are a necessary evil.” — instead of vertically but could not crack the formatting dilemma). It’s useful to point out here that much literary experiment is essential playful, fun. And Gillespie’s novel, despite being about disease and the the near total destruction of mankind, has a (ever so deliciously macabre) hopeful side. As the author says in an interview with John Warner at Inside Higher Ed:

There are methods to the madness, but “play” is a fun description of what I did. Regarding glimmers, I see it as a hopeful story, in that the sudden near-total extinction of mankind offers hope for survival of the ecosystem. My book is ambivalent whether it’s about a virus that kills humans, or about humans as a virus killing the earth.

It’s a great pleasure to present his work on Numéro Cinq (and I owe Philip Graham a beer for bringing William Gillespie to my attention; see Philip’s interview with Gillespie at FictionWriters Review: Zombies Are Not Real: An Interview with William Gillespie).









—William Gillespie


William Gillespie has published ten books of fiction and poetry under six different names. He is co-author of the world’s longest literary palindrome (so declared by Paul Braffort of the Oulipo) and an award-winning hypertext novel. He works for the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois.

The story “Keep the Change” is an exclusive excerpt from Gillespie’s new novel Keyhole Factory, published in November by Soft Skull Press.



“. . . you would have to go back to Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro to find such a purely poetic take on the unthinkable.” PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

“. . . stupendous, mind-bending . . .” AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW

“. . . by turns bewildering and gorgeous, maddening and profound . . .” SMILE POLITELY



“I’ve had very, very few superstars. William is a superstar… William’s work is also compelling and accomplished in its heartcraft, feeling for character, wit, and the kind of perverse humility one sees in writers who are smart enough to know how little can be known for certain.”
—David Foster Wallace
“William Gillespie…is one of the wittiest and most original writers in contemporary American literature.”
–Robert Coover
“…his vastly superior linguistic skills, mathematical mind, intelligence and curiosity combine with his energy…to produce writing of a unique richness and playfulness.”
—Lucia Cordell Getsi
“Gillespie works in a contemporary tradition whose foremost practitioners are members of the Oulipo, the Paris-based group of writers and mathematicians founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Gillespie’s poetry can seem as feverishly wrought as some works of Ian Monk and at other times as stylishly refined as some works of Harry Mathews.”
— Doug Nufer, American Book Review
“…a writer who has clearly learned his chops well.”
—Eckhard Gerdes, Context
“…his vastly superior linguistic skills, mathematical mind, intelligence and curiosity combine with his energy…to produce writing of a unique richness and playfulness.”
—Lucia Cordell Getsi
“[Gillespie’s] language here is far from restrained—it is disciplined, wily, animated, resourceful, in turn nonsensical and musical, but supremely vital, dazzling to confront (“read” is not quite the verb), sculpted lines smeary with fingerprints, stunned by the audacity of their own construction.”
—Joseph Dewey, Review of Contemporary Fiction
“His imagination is sharp, raucous, random, and contrarian.”
—Lance Olsen, American Book Review

  One Response to “Keep the Change: Fiction — William Gillespie”

  1. Will definitely get a copy of this, Doug – thanks so much for featuring it . “…’play’ is a fun description of what I did.” Yes! I hope to bring it up in the discussion called The Poetry Playground at your residency in January (along with partners-in-crime Jen and Sascha) –

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