February 14, 2012 | by Andrew Martin
In five novels and a collection of short stories, Anthony Giardina has written about the conflicts at the intersection of social class, family, and sexuality. Recent History explores the anxieties of a young man whose parents get divorced when his father announces he’s gay; in White Guys, a horrific murder in Boston forces old friends to consider their assumptions about where they belong in the social hierarchy. His new novel, Norumbega Park, traces the lives of the four members of an Italian-American family in Massachusetts over forty years. Richie, the patriarch, is seized by an urge to purchase a traditional house in the titular town, setting in motion a new life for his family. His son Jack breezes through high school on his charm, then runs into trouble when he moves to New York instead of going to college. Joannie, Jack’s sister, joins a convent, and her mother, Stella, struggles with that choice, as well as with her own encroaching mortality. I spoke with Giardina by e-mail about the work and experience that went into creating the new book.
Your fiction has been credited with “charting the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs.” What draws you to this story?
I was a witness, as a young boy, to my father’s desire to move us up, in our case from a working-class neighborhood to a brand-new neighborhood of houses that men built for themselves—my father and his cronies, Italian-American working-class guys who had made some money. They literally blasted into this hill in Waltham, Massachusetts, this area that had just been woods, and they built these houses that I can see now were just basic split-level structures but that seemed to me kind of magical. It wasn’t just houses these guys were building, it was a whole neighborhood they considered “exclusive.” It made them all act differently. They gave parties for themselves—they dressed up, the women wore gowns. And it was maybe the first complex social observation I was able to make, to watch a group of men and women consciously attempt to reinvent themselves.
Later, of course, I was able to see that this was a huge theme in American fiction, but before I knew it as literature, I had seen it in its raw form, and it left me with a vivid sense that this is how class works in America—that assumption of a new identity based on where you live, and how well you’ve done.
I’ve never wanted to do that for myself. I live in a modest house, and I like to assume a suburban identity where I’m just one of the neighborhood guys. Read More »
December 13, 2011 | by Andrew Martin
Gary Lutz is a wholly original writer of the short story. The first thing one notices are his startling sentences, like this one from the title story of his new collection, Divorcer: “It was in a dullard four-door with a brat of a rattling dashboard that I sometimes drove to, from, and through these places, then back to my wife and other things she was a baby about.” The sentences, and the stories, in collections such as Stories in the Worst Way, Partial List of People to Bleach, and I Looked Alive, are about sad men and women and their glancing and troubled interactions with the world. Men look for love in public bathrooms and find solace in women’s clothing; relationships inevitably falter and die, leaving behind regretful and longing ex-lovers. In his best work, Lutz displays an innate understanding of the grim compromises of modern life but heightens and glorifies these with his dizzying language. He refuses to let the dreary world force him to write a dreary sentence. I recently conducted this interview with him via e-mail.
Your new collection, Divorcer, contains a number of stories about the ends and aftermaths of relationships. Did you set out to write a series of thematically linked stories?
I had no expectation that these stories, written piecemeal, might one day mingle with one another in a book. It was Derek White, the extraordinary founder and editor of Calamari Press, who convinced me that the stories added up to something. The stories were written during stretches of four summers and the better half of an autumn. The longer pieces took months and months to finish, but one of the shorter entries, “Fathering,” was written in just one week—I’d challenged myself to come up with something quick.
How do you feel this collection differs from your previous ones? To me, the stories seem a bit more narrative driven and perhaps more “accessible" than some of your previous work.
I guess it’s more accessible, or at least a little less willfully disingratiating than my other books, which had more than a touch of solipsism. Even in the lengthier of these new stories, despite their elliptical and fragmentary nature, there is something at least approximating an ongoingness of a sort, if not exactly a plot.
To what degree does your personal experience influence your stories?
To no degree at all, practically. I suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit. Not much has ever happened to me, and I have never had much luck in making anything happen myself. Anyway, my personal life seems off limits, even to me at the center of it. Somebody should sell pocket-size lifetime diaries with just a quarter-page for each entire year—I could surely get my money’s worth out of one of those. Read More »
November 15, 2011 | by Andrew Martin
Umberto Eco’s novels have been widely admired for their blend of erudite scholarship and satisfying, page-turning plots. His latest book, The Prague Cemetery, continues this tradition by placing a fictional character by the name of Simonini in the midst of a real, historical milieu and giving him a significant, sinister place in nineteenth-century history and beyond. Simonini, an equal-opportunity hater of ethnicities, races, and religions, is a master forger and plays an important role in crafting the “conspiracies” of his time, most importantly the document that becomes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I spoke to Eco about the novel, just now being published in the US, on the phone from Italy.
The Prague Cemetery is your sixth novel. Do you find it becomes easier to write a new book at this point in your career? Does it become harder to find new subjects to interest you?
Every time that I write a novel I am convinced for at least two years that it is the last one, because a novel is like a child. It takes two years after its birth. You have to take care of it. It starts walking, and then speaking. In two months I will be eighty years old. Probably I will not write another novel, and so mankind will be safe.
Did you enjoy writing this particular book?
Less than the others. For me, the process of writing usually takes six years. In those years I collect material, I write, I rewrite. I am in a sort of a private world of myself with my characters. I don’t know what will happen. I discover it step by step. And I become very sad when the novel is finished because there is no more pleasure, no more surprise. Read More »