A while back, I wrote about Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, which may be the first novel in history written entirely in the form of recommendation letters. Now, at The Rumpus, Anjali Enteti sits down with Schumacher, who talks about writing by hand, the adjunct crisis, and why it’s okay that so many people are getting MFAs. You could also read our own Nick Ripatrazone on why MFA grads should teach high school.
I wanted to tell that story about a magician, I think, in part because I felt so lost and so rudderless in exactly the same way that fantasy heroes tend to be so focused and directed. They’ve always got the Dumbledore, or the Gandalf, to guide them and put them back on their path, tell them where to go. And I felt like there was no one in my life like that. I felt the real absence of someone like that. So I wanted to give these characters the experience of wandering around and where there ought to be a mentor showing them were to go, there’s nobody. They just have to figure it out for themselves and they make a lot of bad choices along the way.
A couple weeks ago, Brian Ted Jones reviewed The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which “takes place on the margins of a grand, cosmic struggle.” Not long afterwards, at The Rumpus, Woody Brown offered a somewhat negative take on the book, arguing that it makes it too difficult for the reader to suspend her disbelief. You could also read Woody’s Millions review of Haruki Murakami’s new novel.
The dialogue novel is often deeply intellectual. Recalling the conversations of Socrates and Plato, it allows for freewheeling philosophical inquiry. The lack of solidified characters and settings engenders abstraction, an open space where jokes, digressions, and ideas can roam wild. Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and his Master, first published in France in 1796, tells of chummy Jacques and his humdrum master. To pass the time on their journey, Jacques regales his master with tales of love and loss. Regardless of what happens—whether it’s tragic, banal, absurd, or romantic—Jacques claims it was written up above, meaning everything is predetermined, meaning that the course of our lives was set before we ever got here, which raises questions about the deterministic nature of existence, among other things.
To live abroad, particularly for work, particularly in isolation, inspires a particular kind of surrealism. I wake up around seven from the church bells clanging across the street; I brush my teeth, walk down the hill to work, spend all day with my colleagues and students. At night I go back to the gîte, smoke a cigarette off my balcony, and fall asleep feeling empty, alone, and strange. It feels rude to say I am sad here: there is nothing to be sad about. I am working a dream job, in a beautiful place. But as it is easy to be lonely in a crowd, so it is easy to be depressed in southern France.
It’s not often that a writer has an essay collection and a debut novel come out in the space of a few months, but that’s exactly the situation of Year in Reading alum Roxane Gay, whose novel An Untamed State and collection Bad Feminist are both getting published this year. At Bookforum, Margaret Weppler reads An Untamed State,which displays, she writes, “a staggering sense of strength, confidence and integrity.”
I don’t know where I write. Couldn’t begin to tell you. I’m not being coy, I’m serious. I look at my books, the piles of uncollected work, and they just seem to have appeared. I can’t create any images to go with my sense of ownership. When it comes to where I write, my memory is completely unreliable. All I know for sure is where I am now, which of course, won’t be true when you read this.
It’s funny how as an author, I rarely notice what seems so obvious to other people: that I have obsessions and will write about them endlessly. Sad, lonely, self-loathing guy? Mid-20th and 21st century literature loves to write about that guy, and so do I. Reckless, self-aggrandizing, narcissist man? I like to write about him, too, though of course they are the same person. A person whose energy compels people to orbit him—family, friends, underlings, women.