Animal Magnetism

Michael Hogan

When his mother read him the Jack London classic, “The Call of the Wild,” John Fulton decided when he grew up he wanted to be one of two things: a dog or a writer. When he published his first collection of fiction, “Retribution,” for which he won the Southern Review Short Fiction Award in 2001, one of those two dreams was met.

Fulton says his love of writing stems from the “profound difficulty with language” he experienced as a child. To Fulton, who wouldn’t really start reading until junior high school, language was something both “mysterious and frustrating.”

Despite such a rough start, he has managed to overcome those initial obstacles and master the language that once caused so much aggravation. Winner of the prestigious Pushcart Prize for Short Fiction, Fulton has just released his third book, a collection of two novellas and three short stories entitled “The Animal Girl.”

It has been said that “those who can’t, teach.” Fulton is the exception.

“You can’t have sympathy for your students without doing it yourself,” he says of teaching creative writing at the University of Michigan and here at UMB.

“I am fascinated by the work that others do,” he explains. This fascination drives him out to experience the world around him and find new fodder for his work.

In his first book ten years ago, Fulton tried to explore the ideas of divorce and dysfunction in human relationships. Back then, reviewers called the work “gritty.” Now, with “The Animal Girl,” Fulton explores the interactions of people who have already been through that dysfunction and are putting the pieces back together. Reviewers now call his characters “decent and likeable people.”

The work of many different artists has influenced Fulton’s work. It all began with Jack London, but there have been others along the way. While working on his first book, Fulton found himself delving into the works of Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson; reading about hostility and dysfunction helped to shape that first book. The same goes for his more recent works. Reading the stories of writers like Alice Munro and Jumpha Lahiri has allowed Fulton patience in his work, which allows for more contemplation.

Marriage and the birth of his first child have brought a new dimension to his writing. He now finds himself investigating “what brings people together, rather than pulling them apart.”

Many times it is life that makes a story. The films “Talk to Her” and “The Dreamlife of Angels” helped to influence a story in the collection called “Sleeping Woman.” The story of a woman in a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma brings to light the complications of human existence as a whole and what it is that makes us alive.

The title story, “The Animal Girl,” another highlight of this great book, is an exploration of grief and loss. The story takes place in a biomedical research laboratory, much like the one in which Fulton himself once worked, administering heart attacks to sheep in the early 80s. A setting most know nothing about, the laboratory is the perfect place to examine the deepest recesses of an embittered human mind.

“The Animal Girl” is available at your local bookstore, as well as, and other online retailers. For more information on Fulton and his work, visit his website at