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Justin Taylor on ‘The Gospel of Anarchy’

February 28, 2011 | by

The Gospel of Anarchy is the debut novel from Justin Taylor. The story follows a group of anarchist hippies living together in Fishgut, a house turned commune in the college town of Gainesville, Florida. Philosophizing on religion, freedom, and happiness, they await the return of their Anarchristian friend, Parker, whose left-behind journals have become their own gospel. I met with Taylor to talk about the book.

The Gospel of Anarchy is your first novel. Did you encounter any challenges in the process of switching from the short story format?

One of the hardest parts of writing a novel is figuring out the structure. Mine went through a lot of different versions. The “zero draft” was all in first person, told by David, and then it was all rewritten in third, but still just about him. I wanted to include the others’ perspectives, so I tried doing it in a first-person round, almost like Rashomon or something, which didn’t work either, and somehow or other I came around to what you see now.

The way in which the topic of faith is discussed in the book reminds me of Flannery O’Connor. Was she on your mind in writing this story? Were their other authors that influenced your writing?

Flannery O’Connor was definitely an influence, especially her “other” novel, The Violent Bear It Away, which I actually like much better than Wise Blood. Violent is very funny but very dark, and the stakes of the entire book are basically whether this idiot child should be baptized. For her this is a matter of life and death, and the baptism might actually be more important than death, and I love that. Another author I really love is DeLillo. You can end up in some pretty murky waters trying to do your own take on DeLillo, so hopefully the book steers clear of imitation, but he was a big influence and there are a couple DeLillo shout-outs in the book. The first comes early on, when a character named Thomas sarcastically quotes the opening of White Noise in conversation. Later on, a couple characters compile a zine based on their friend Parker’s journal, which itself is a jumble of uncited allusions, quotes, and references to all kinds of political and religious thinkers mixed with Parker’s original thoughts. But there’s a line slipped in there about how “our faith makes us crazy in the world.” That’s from the Moonie character in DeLillo’s Mao II.

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