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.
"Language starts to shut down the strength and power and strangeness of what it means to be a person in the world." At The Rumpus, Ben Marcus discusses how he uses language in his writing and his new short story collection, Leaving the Sea (featured in our 2014 book preview.) Pair with: Our own Adam Boretz’s interview with Marcus and our review of The Flame Alphabet.