It’s something of a cliché to refer to a novel as much-anticipated, probably because the phrase is too often used to refer to a novel that isn’t much, if at all, anticipated, or maybe because once read, the work disappoints. But History of Violence, Édouard Louis’s followup to his very well-received first novel, The End of Eddy, truly is much anticipated. And despite subject matter that could easily have ended up being sensationalist, self-involved, or mawkish, History of Violence doesn’t disappoint.
In writing an “autofictional” account of how he was raped and almost murdered in his apartment by a trick he brought home one night, Louis is following in the brainy footsteps of French authors and intellectuals like Didier Eribon and Hervé Guibert. Indeed, Louis and Eribon are friends, and Eribon is a character in the novel. Though Eribon is 64 and Louis is 25, both are gay men from the working class and are highly conscious of the discrimination they face: among the middle and upper classes, because of their working-class background, and among the working class, because of their homosexuality. Eribon has also written a great deal about how gay men and lesbians must reinvent themselves in order to survive, often by leaving their families and their hometowns and moving to a big city. Louis is just such a gay man.
So when Louis finds sympathy for his attacker, whose name is Reda, his sympathy stems from his consciousness of the phenomena of gay re-invention, in addition to PTSD. Louis documents the symptoms of PTSD he experiences: his incessant talking, his fear that Reda will seek him out and take revenge if Louis goes to the police, his flight back home to his sister in small-town, populist France. But, seeing some of himself in Reda, Louis can also easily imagine just how difficult life can be for a poor, gay immigrant from an Islamic country who has come to Paris to “reinvent the past.” “The past,” Louis writes, “is the one thing we can change.” “I have no doubt [Reda] feared the future less than he feared the past.” Indeed, though Reda is actually Kabyle, the police refer to him generically as Arab. And Louis perceives that “for them Arab didn’t refer to somebody’s geographical origins, it meant, scum, criminal, thug.”
The structure of the novel is simple and complex all at once. Louis gives us his account of the rape. At the same time, Louis’s sister, Clara, retells Louis’s story to her husband, peppering it with her own caustic and prejudicial remarks. Unbeknownst to Clara, Louis is eavesdropping on her retelling and adding his own caustic remarks about Clara’s reinterpretation of his story.
Louis, nevertheless, has some appreciation and need for Clara, and for the police; otherwise, why would he capture Clara’s voice, a voice not his own, so convincingly? And why would he have returned home in the first place? Indeed, Clara provides much-needed levity. She has an inimitable way of popping Louis’s literary bubbles. Louis tells her that when Reda cruised him on the street, “I liked the sound of his breathing. I wanted to take his breath in my fingers and spread it all over my face.” Clara, in turn, tells her husband, “To like the way somebody breathes—I mean, really.” Elsewhere Louis quotes Clara as saying, “That kid and his ideas.” As for the police, who Louis characterizes as ignorant, racist, and homophobic, he also writes, “at the same time they helped me in a crucial, decisive way, they represented a way for me to say what I had to say, and where this was sayable.”
Louis is like Hervé Guibert in his fearless and searching moral inventory of himself. About his reasons for finally returning home to Clara, for instance, Louis muses to himself:
You’ve also stayed away because you’ve discovered how easy it is to cut her loose, how little you actually miss her, and sometimes you rub her face in it because you want her help, because you want her to help you leave. Now she knows. She knows how cold you can be and you’re ashamed. Even if there’s no reason to be ashamed, even if you have every right to leave her, still you’re ashamed. You know that coming to see her means facing your own cruelty.
Louis recalls Guibert, too, in his concerns about HIV/AIDS (Guibert wrote extensively about AIDS, including the classic To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life). In the emotional aftermath of the rape, Louis seeks out HIV prevention, and recounts this encounter with a nurse:
“I see you’ve come for this medication once before.” It was true. I had taken a preventive medication for AIDS two years before. The moment after she said it, she winced, “There’s nothing wrong with that, of course”—and her nothing wrong with that meant that something was indeed wrong with me.
If there’s anything wrong with History of Violence, it’s only that it ends too soon. But that may be only the pressure of wanting to follow up a successful first novel with a second one before too much time goes by. The closure Louis does provide us with is that, near the end, he definitively and narratively declares that he’s stopped listening to Clara, and thus we know that, heroically, despite all the shame Clara and others would have him feel, Louis is his very own, very real man. “When I write,” he declares, “I say everything, when I speak I am a coward. I spoke but my eyes remained dry.”
History of Violence
By Édouard Louis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, 9780374170592, 224 pp.
“Imagine Me Gone is the most personal book I’ve written, since I used the fact there is mental illness in my own family more directly than I have in anything else.”
To sum up Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown and Company ) as a novel about an affluent family’s struggle with mental illness is to make it sound far more predictable than it actually is. With this novel of familial strife, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominee Adam Haslett moves beyond cliché and immerses Imagine Me Gone in contemporary ideas about racial and economic justice in America—he does so by having each of the five family members serve as alternating narrators.
When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings — the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec–struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.
Author Adam Haslett spoke to Lambda about crafting his new novel, writing nonfiction and the art of creating believable characters.
Since it was released in May, Imagine Me Gone is often described as a novel about a family dealing with mental illness. But the epigraph you chose for the book is by queer author Jean Genet, hardly a family kind of writer, and the first character up as narrator is Alec, the gay son of the family. Can you tell Lambda Literary readers more about how Imagine Me Gone might be seen as gay book?
Sure. The character you mention, Alec, is one of the main characters and his trajectory over the course of the book is in many ways a story about intimacy between men, about becoming a gay man. Alec moves over the course of the book from alienated and anonymous encounters to meeting someone and trying to figure out how to shift into a realm where he can somehow combine sex and intimacy. That’s one of the through lines. One of the other through lines is Alec’s relationship to his father and his older brother. One of the things I was trying to get at in terms of masculinity is that Alec is the one who is in the most control. Alec is able to flourish where the two straight man in the family are not able to “panache” it. So it’s both a gay book and a book about masculinity, about how men cope with their own weakness, their own desires.
I can’t think of any other novel in which two brothers, one gay, one straight, are sympathetic partners in solitude as Alec and Michael. They’re both single and they bond because of their mutual relationship status. Did you have any literary antecedents in mind and, if not, can you tell me more about where the idea came from?
I don’t think I had a particular book in mind. Michael, the older brother who suffers from severe anxiety, is someone who is also deeply committed to the cause of left politics, particularly African-American and racial justice. He’s also a very frantically abstracting character. So when Michael recounts Alec coming out to him, and Michael’s the last member of the family Alec come does come out to, he aligns himself with Alec mainly along the lines of politics, taking it as axiomatic that to be gay is to be left wing. But Michael realizes in that same moment that perhaps Alec needed more than that—more than just an abstract political response. So to some extent, this is just the absurdity and occasional hilarity of this pretty liberal family dealing with all these problems.The issue is not acceptance of homosexuality. The issue is whether there’s going to be any ability to cope with these emotions. But Alec also does see, as you mentioned, the ways in which he and Michael are close because they’re both single, and I guess it’s just, to me, the representation of a complex relationship. There’s lot of single straight men who, like Michael, often feel as alienated from their desires or from being seen as desirable as gay men do.
Imagine Me Gone expertly captures the social and political context of an era, as well as presenting complex characters and a propulsive plot. Writing this kind of book seems to be your forte. To whatever extent that’s true, what advice would you give a young writer trying to incorporate the Orlando Massacre into a story?
The first thing I would say is consider whether it’s too soon, simply because the meaning of events of such magnitude and emotional/cultural intensity tend to distill over time in your own imagination and in the culture’s imagination. That said, if you were taking the plunge, I guess I would say the edict to start with is be brave. That is to say, try to imagine yourself outside the lines of narratives that have already been established around the event. Fiction is an exploration of ambiguity and things that are hard to know or pin down, an exploration of the ambivalent states within people. One obvious example is the In Cold Blood approach, which would be to imagine the subjectivity of the killer. That’s done fairly frequently but, you know, there are the narratives created by the news media and groups organizing around it, and they’re obviously purposely contentious. They’re arguments for a purpose. They’re not meant to make things more complex. They’re meant to make things simpler.
Do you think you have a nonfiction book in you?
I do. I think I do. I think it’s a question of subject and narrative. The nonfiction books I find most compelling are ones that offer analysis and that are intellectually probing, but that also tell some kind of story in the process of doing that. While I have written about politics in shorter form, mostly commentary, I haven’t landed on the thing that would be the through line subject. I’ve thought about doing it in relation to gay life. I occupy a kind of transitional generation between those whose immediate generation was impacted by AIDS and HIV, and those ten years younger than me for who the cocktail was there before they became sexually active. There are any number of different subjects. But I haven’t yet written a great deal about my own experience as a gay man.
I’ve heard Michael Cunningham talk about the freedom he’s had to write what he wants to write since having won the Pulitzer Prize for The Hours. How has being nominated for a Pulitzer and National Book Award changed your life?
It changed it quite materially in that it allowed me to pursue writing full time. That was an enormous change. That same advice I just gave on the Orlando question, “Be brave” is the advice I received from my first editor, Ann Cleaves. I think it’s the best writing advice I’ve ever received. It allowed me to continue to believe that being brave is the best thing you can do for your own work, rather than imagining in advance what might be palatable to publishers or audience.
Imagine Me Gone is the most personal book I’ve written, since I used the fact there is mental illness in my own family more directly than I have in anything else. So one of the things that has been a gratifying surprise is that, however specific the novel is about these characters in their own idiosyncratic situations, it seems to have elicited in a lot of readers thoughts about their own families’ struggles and sibling relationships and mental illness and other things. So through specificity, generality! That’s the thing that’s been reinforced for me. You don’t arrive at the general by trying to portray the general; you arrive at it by being true to the specific.
– See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/interviews/07/24/adam-haslett-on-masculinity-being-fearless-and-the-power-of-ambiguity/#sthash.WNWxYQ3R.dpuf
To sum up Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown) as a novel about an affluent family’s struggle with mental illness is to make it sound far more predictable than it actually is. With this novel of familial strife, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominee Adam Haslett moves beyond cliché and immerses Imagine Me Gone in contemporary ideas about racial and economic justice in America—he does so by having each of the five family members serve as alternating narrators. Even the family’s most conventional character—Margaret, the much-burdened matriarch—asserts, “I’m not a doll in the house of my mother’s imaginings. I got out. And far.”
Margaret’s feminism takes her to England where she meets and becomes engaged to a Brit named John. There are soon signs of danger, however, as John falls into a mute depression even before the nuptials. Thus the limits of Margaret’s love begin to be tested right from the start. Back in America, fifteen years and three children later, John fails himself and his family as an entrepreneurial venture capitalist. He mentally shuts down again, and kills himself in an early chapter. The scene is graphic but beautifully rendered.
Michael, the couple’s oldest son, is arguably the novel’s central character. It’s Michael who largely serves to bring the story forward from Margaret’s 1960s feminism to contemporary trends in American identity politics. Michael would seem to have inherited his father’s strain of suicidal depression. But by painstakingly detailing Michael’s serious study of the history of slavery in America, Haslett smartly suggests that Michael’s obsessiveness may also be a function of America’s collective, historical angst. Michael’s empathic sensitivity makes him the hero of the novel, despite the tragic arc of his story. “I was born into the fantasy of supremacy,” Michael broods. “Others are born into the fantasy’s cost. But the source of violence is the same.”
Often Michael provides the novel’s humorous levity, too. About his sexual penchant for unavailable black women, he jokes “I would have been a lot better off as a lesbian of color.” This flippancy is elsewhere balanced when Michael confesses that his desire for black lovers has “morphed into something more loaded: the desire to physically reverse racial privilege by becoming [my lover’s] slave. And where else could this transportation occur with any real force but in the trauma of sex.” Haslett uses Michael’s cynical nature to great creative effect as well. The conceit of one chapter, for instance, is that Michael is filling out a form in psychiatrist’s office. His wry answers to questions like “What are your treatment goals?” both move the narrative along and deepen character. (His answer to the above question, by the way, is “Ordinary unhappiness.”)
A very contemporary gay point of view comes from Alec, the youngest member of the family. Alec works as a journalist and sees himself as “a clean-cut professional.” However, he is obsessive to the point of being “the family actuary.” He constantly worries about money, and wears a mask at Christmas family get-togethers for fear of his mother’s household mold. Celia, the middle child, works as a professional therapist, and as such she brings a psychological point of view to the novel. However, writing as Celia, Haslett never resorts to clichéd psychobabble. Alec and Celia are more well-adjusted than the chronically underemployed, student-loan indebted Michael. But like him, they each ultimately seek deliverance from a home where “the hierarchy … of Dad’s resignation still ranked above any other battle wounds.” Alec recalls his childhood and how, even at twelve, “I loved men.” “But it wasn’t the sex. To know for certain…that a man was paying attention to me and nothing else—what else was there to want but that? To matter and know that you mattered.”
In encapsulating a young Celia’s coping mechanisms, John notes, “Celia’s way of coping […] are already the adult ones: discipline, drinking, the search for someone else to love her.”
Haslett sets up fresh, counterintuitive dynamics between Michael and Alec. It’s the straight Michael, rather than the gay Alec, who has body image issues. And it’s Michael, through his love of black music, including disco, who first discovers gay culture. When Alec comes out, Michael’s response is positive and humorously analytical, “I told him that I approved of homosexuality as a counter-hegemonic subject position. That it constituted one of the key sites of resistance to patriarchy….In retrospect, I could have used a more personal touch.”
Imagine Me Gone can be read as described above—for its historical specificity, for its politics—and it can also be read as a novel of ideas about love and memory; and even as a philosophical novel that examines whether our characters are inborn or nurtured. Margaret remembers the dates of family milestones and observes family rituals religiously. For much of the book, this strikes Celia as sentimental and annoying. But Margaret’s habits are also existential. Reading Armies of the Night, in which Norman Mailer speculates that “it’s in motion that Americans remember,” Margaret expands on the idea: “If you think of memory not just as looking back, but as being aware of time and how it passes…then there is something about being in motion that does cause it. Through some sleight of mind, physical forward motion makes time seem visible.” Looking back on her children’s childhoods, she concludes, “Most of all who they are now was there then.” In Michael’s mental illness, she sees “something new but very old.”
Perhaps things are wrapped up a little too neatly when Celia ultimately forgives Margaret for her attachment to dates and rituals. “It seemed liked you were avoiding reality,”Celia confesses to her mother. “You were trying to keep our world together. To keep things the same. I see that now.” And perhaps we’re expected to feel relieved when Alec gives up the promiscuity that Celia chides him for by setting down with a husband. But this is only to say that there’s a conflict between conformity and nonconformity at the heart of Imagine Me Gone, a conflict that lives in most of us.
Imagine Me Gone
By Adam Haslett
Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover, 9780316261357, 368 pp.
– See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/05/24/imagine-me-gone-by-adam-haslett/#sthash.Bl7QQe0M.dpuf
It’s not easy to have a tête-à-tête with writer Garth Greenwell. Not because his growing list of successes—articles in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and a short story in The Paris Review—have gone to head. On the contrary, he’s as warm and lighthearted as he is pensive.
No, the only reason it’s hard to have a sit down with Garth is because, at the time of this interview, he is living far away in Bulgaria. He was, however, in New York City during November 2015, and we took advantage of the situation to discuss his much anticipated debut novel, What Belongs to You(FSG), the follow-up to his novella Mitko. The novel is an emotionally charged exploration of lust and longing, that centers on the relationship between a gay American teacher living in Bulgaria and a charismatic local young hustler.
The conversation went on after the recorder was turned off, but here is what we got on record.
I think it’s fair to say What Belongs to You is a semi-autobiographical novel. To what extent?
That’s genuinely a hard question to answer. I mean, in some sense, the division between genres seems kind of arbitrary to me. Both fiction and nonfiction can be more or less interested in invention. Invention is less interesting to me as a writer; though I love it as a reader. It’s less interesting to me as a writer than trying to approach experience, whether imagined or not, in a way that goes into the greatest possible depth. So that’s more interesting to me than a fecundity of invention.
I’m drawn to books that play with a narrator who invokes the author, and that is certainly the case in What Belongs to You. I think all of the biographical facts we have about the narrator map onto my life more or less directly. And certainly it is in some way an attempt to put my experience of consciousness on the page. Part of the aesthetic pleasure I take from reading W.G Sebald, or Thomas Mann, in certain of his books, or Proust, is the pleasure of never being sure whether something is autobiographical or not. All of which I think sounds coy and not directly answering the question. But it does seem to be kind of an unanswerable question. I guess I would say this: the distinction for me that does feel meaningful between fiction and nonfiction is that nonfiction has a kind of greater allegiance to the truth, to a kind of fact-checkable truth. The reason that I call what I write fiction is that, in my book, when I make use of that kind of fact-checkable [information] it’s totally without allegiance to the truth.
You emailed me some stories that have recently appeared in other publications—The Paris Review for one—and you indicated that they are part of project that extends What Belongs to You. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes. The book I’m working on now is a collection of short stories, some of which I actually wrote in breaks between writing the three parts of the current novel. They’re in the same narrative voice, and they’re all set in Bulgaria. A character who appears in the third part of What Belongs to You, the narrator’s boyfriend, is a main character in many of these stories. A whole section [of the next book] will be about their relationship. So in that sense I am working on a book that does feel like the same project as What Belongs to You. I have no idea what will come after that book. I am drawn to writers whose work is in some ways one big book. To me, Sebald reads that way. Proust is another great example. That said, I also do love reading books that are deeply inventive. But right now, what I’m working on does seem like a continuation of the same project.
I think that What Belongs to You is really going to resonate with gay readers, partly because of its many insights about being gay, about desire, some of them downright philosophical. How did you arrive at such wonderful epiphanies?
There’s a weird writerly history with this book because I had never written fiction until “Mitko,” the first part of this novel. Before that, I’d only ever been a poet. I did an MFA in poetry 15 years ago, and half of a Ph.D. where I was focusing on poetry as a scholar. And so a lot of the writers who really shaped my sense of what I want to do in literature are poets. That said, even though I’d never studied fiction as a writer or a scholar, I’d always read novels voraciously.
I feel very strongly that this is a gay book and that it participates in a recognizable delineated tradition of gay writing, and that’s a tradition that has been absolutely crucial to me as a writer. I get impatient with people who say that placing a book in that kind of tradition is a limitation, that it diminishes a sense of a book’s universal reach. I think that is just wrong. I think the way that literature works is by deeply investing in individual experience as a way of reaching a kind of universal resonance. And I think that to ascribe diminishment to that is nothing other than homophobia, really—a sense that in some way queer experience has less access to the universal than straight experience or white male experience, etc…. There’s no question to me that the gay tradition is important to this book and to me those crucial writers are people like Edmund White, people like Proust. And then there’s also a way in which the novel, I hope, is participating in the tradition of the novel of consciousness, which is that philosophical bit. Which is also, really, when you look at it, a very queer tradition. Proust is a forefather here. Henry James is queer and wrote novels of consciousness. Thomas Mann, too. The three prose stylists who I think of as my kind of holy trinity are Thomas Bernhard, who also is quite queer, and then W.G. Sebald, and Javier Marias, who is a living Spanish writer. The three of them take a fairly European tradition of the novel of consciousness and bring into it contemporary concerns with identity and with history in a way that feels very compelling to me. And also just in term of the shapes of their sentences, which I think are extraordinary.
What Belongs to You
The middle section of What Belongs to You is a single paragraph. There are lots of people who write block paragraph books, to me the two most important are Bernhard and the gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. And a tradition of poetry quite queer that extends to devotional poetry from the 17th century, which is what I focused on a scholar, and the person who for me is the most important living American writer, Frank Bidart. My teacher at Washington University was Carl Phillips, who was very important to me, particularly in terms of thinking of the elasticity of English syntax. Henri Cole was a teacher of mine. I think he’s master. Those are some of the influences. And then going further back I think the ur-text for the novel of consciousness and the novel of consciousness approach through sexuality is Saint Augustine’s Confessions. That’s a book I lived with for a long time. Augustine makes a statement, interrogates it, and therefore remakes it; that motion of consciousness is something you find exquisitely in Proust, in James and in Elizabeth Bishop, in John Ashbery, and Frank Bidart, and Carl Phillips. That sense of a mind in motion, of someone who’s not making assertions but trying to feel his or her way forward through an understanding of experience—that’s the motion of mind I want to capture on the page.
The only writer you didn’t mention that I thought you might is D.H Lawrence.
That’s an interesting case. Why did you think that?
Because Lawrence, like James, though he has very different style, is concerned with desire and looks really deeply and psychologically into emotions and motivations as they’re mitigated by the power differentials.
That’s very true. I love Lawrence. When I was doing my PhD. general exams where we had to sit at a table with a professor who quizzed us on the history of literature from Beowulf to Salman Rushdie—a horrible experience. Actually it was fine. But during the preparation for it, one of the ways we kept ourselves sane was keeping a list of the hottest moments in English literature. And one of them is in Sons and Lovers and it’s when Paul has sex with an older woman in the bushes by the side of the road and they’re listening to people pass by. Which is hot enough. But the sexiest part of it is after the sex when he switches from calling her “you” to calling her “thou.” He goes into dialect. The whole temperature of their relationship changes. That’s one of the key moments in literature, given how such a small shift of addiction puts you in a different world. But I often feel that there’s a kind of confidence that Lawrence has in the experience of sex and the experience of desire. There’s a confidence about the rightness of desire and how desire becomes this source for transcendental meaning. And that’s just diametrically opposed to my experience which, you know, has always been an experience of desiring something I shouldn’t desire. And desire has always carried with it, for me…
Shame and guilt…
…shame and guilt! I was raised in Kentucky, first generation off the farm, so I don’t have to look far to see where that shame and guilt comes from. But even when you get past that part of it, the part about being raised in a deeply homophobic culture, I just feel deeply suspicious of the idea that the fact I desire something means that I have any kind of claim to it. Desire gives Lawrence access to this sort of self that is so incredibly authentic; it becomes mythic. Desire gives him access in a very affirmative way to this sort of universal assertion. For myself, desire gives me access, in this very complex and self-contradictory way, to the universal experience of ambivalence and doubt. In that way, I feel very different from him, but I love those books.
Poetry? Any plans for a book of poems or is it not where you’re at at the moment?
It’s not; I haven’t written a poem since I started writing prose. I went to Bulgaria in 2009 and the first couple of months I was there I finished this poetry manuscript that I had been working on for years. And it was after I finished it that I had this weird experience that I still don’t fully understand, of sort of hearing language that I knew would not work in the lines. And I started writing prose, not having any idea what I was doing. But it was clear to me when I finished the first piece of prose that it was better than any of the poems I’d written–that it, in a way, demolished the poems. And since then, really, everything has come to me in prose. It seems all the things I wanted to do in poetry [I was able] to do in prose. For a long time I felt really distant from poetry. And then, when I went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, in my first month in the town this totally bizarre thing happened which was I was set up with this poet, a Spanish poet named Luis Muñoz, who’s my boyfriend.
I didn’t know he’s a poet.
He is a poet and he’s actually a kind of fancy poet.
Fancy, meaning his style? Or fancy meaning a good publishing history?
He’s had a big career in Spain. And he’s really known in Spanish language poetry which I had no idea about it until I did that creepy Google-stalking thing and found all these articles about him. Iowa has one of three Spanish-language MFA programs in the United States. And Luis is the poetry professor in that program and he has this extraordinary unbelievable knowledge of the poetry of the Spanish tradition. I mean, he just quotes at impossible lengths the work of Federico Garcia Lorca. He introduced me to a whole sort of world of poetry that I had only the most glancing acquaintance with before knowing him, including poets who have become really deeply important to me. Being in a relationship with Luis is like having your hand on this live wire of poetry all the time.
I read your article on Spanish writer Pedro Lemebel and I haven’t read the one on A Little Life yet, because I want to finish reading the book first. But what about other projects that bring LGBT or LGBT-related voices forward? That seems to be an enterprise for you. Are you working on any other projects in this regard?
There are two things I sort of champion, and it’s great when they come together like they did in Lemebel, and they are gay literature and then literature in translation. I care deeply about those two things and I think American readers don’t care enough about them. So any chance I have to advocate for those writers is one I want to take. I don’t know if I have a sense of any large project. I always keep an eye out for any gay books that are coming out in hopes that they provoke me to write a piece in which I feel I can provide a kind of map for a body of work that seems significant to me and for readers who don’t even know the territory exists. That feels like a much more meaningful piece of writing for me than just a review.
I really feel that Lemebel is one of the greater writers of the 20th and early 21st centuries and that he is a heroic figure. His significance is absolutely recognized in the Spanish-speaking world. It’s not in the English-language world and I think that’s because even though his very great novel, My Tender Matador, is available in English, his real body of works were the crónicas he wrote over his entire working life and in which he really wrote about Santiago for Santiago. That’s very different from a writer like Pablo Neruda, who conceived of himself as a world writer. Neruda was interested in connecting not only with Latin American poetry but with European poetry and American Poetry. And he’s a great poet, in that way. But Lemebel is the opposite. With Lemebel you really feel like he’s writing for a coterie of his best friends. He’s writing for drag queens in Santiago. He doesn’t give a fuck if anyone else is going to read it. The last thing Lemebel wants is to be commodified in a way that allows him to be sold as Neruda was sold. And this gets back to the very first things we were talking about. Lemebel’s pieces about drag queens in Santiago are to me as great and as universal as literature gets.Those pieces need to exist in English and there needs to be some awareness among English readers about what a great writer he is. I’m going to Santiago for the first time, hopefully next month, and I would like that to be the beginning of some kind of larger project about Lemebel and his significance. Because to me his writing doesn’t get any greater.
– See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/interviews/01/18/garth-greenwell-on-his-new-novel-and-the-universality-of-the-gay-experience/#sthash.UzgXBYSl.dpuf