Re-reading some of your stories “Sparks,” “I, Etgar Keret,” and “It’s Happened to Everyone“, I was reminded at how good you are at using what feels like a mix of fairy tale narration plus dream logic to create a world. Are there particular fairy tales or media that uses dream logic that have inspired you?
The idea of fairy tale narration plus dream logic is (perhaps surprisingly) closely entangled, for me, in the Jewish literary tradition, whose influence has strongly affected me and continues to do so. I am in particular thinking of the works of Franz Kafka (The Trial, The Metamorphosis, everything really) and S.Y. Agnon, to my mind one of the best writers writing in any language in the mid-20th century (and who is not appreciated in this country as much as he should be). One of Agnon’s minor (but still great) novels, Shira, starts off with an extended play between dreams and waking life that the author and the reader never really recover from. And Etgar Keret, of course (to which my “I, Etgar Keret” is something of an explicit homage) is a master at this.
What have you read in the past year that you would recommend to other writers?
Ben Lerner’s 10:04 and Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief both seem to be getting at similar issues in slightly different ways. Everything they write is compulsively readable. Cole and Lerner infuse their (very different) works with such philosophical poignancy and narrative strength as to (for me) reinvigorate the genre of the self-referential novel. I am a huge fan of the fiction of Amber Sparks, and am greatly looking forward to her new collection. Finally, while I am not generally a rereader, I often take solace in jumping back into the longer fiction of Roberto Bolano for a short swim, particularly The Savage Detectives, which I have returned to often this year when needing to be reminded that fiction (and the world) can be beautiful and terrible.
Which characters in fiction do you most dislike? And how does your distaste for the characters influence your feelings for the stories they’re in?
This is a great question, and I know I shouldn’t but I often have trouble distinguishing between characters I dislike and stories I loathe. I keep thinking about The Emperor’s Children, which contains to my mind not a single likable character, and which, although in large part well-written (except for its awful ending – Messud’s descriptions of Miami Beach reinforced for me the dangers of writers writing about places they don’t have a feel for), I pretty much despised. But there can be awful characters in beautiful stories. If I met Richard Ford’s blowhard Frank Bacombe in life I would not be able to tolerate him for five minutes. Yet I engulfed myself in Bascombe’s world over four books and countless hours without regret. I guess what it comes down to is I hate know-it-alls, in fiction and in life.