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Bud wrote a new book! It’s out on Vintage, and everyone should be incredibly excited. It’s (unsurprisingly) great. In Teenager, Smith pokes and prods, deconstructs, and blows up a slew of “American Myths.” I love Teenager because you can describe it a dozen different ways to a dozen different people, and none would be wrong. It’s a road book. It’s about the death of the American dream. It’s a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a love story. Naturally, it is all of these things. Bud has crafted a superb novel that is fascinated with the question of what makes us American, but smart enough not to have a reasonable answer. Bud talks about it as a kind of loop: things are invented here, then tried out, exported, and refined, then brought back and tried again. And this repeats. Bud is part of this great tradition. Bud has brought it back and tried again. Bud has written the Great American Novel.  

 

Below, we discuss the myth of America, the characters in Teenager, and influences that helped shape his book.

 


 

I really love the early scene with Kody and Teal smoking: “how do the women in the movies do it, how does Marlboro man do it?” It reminds me of Bruce Springsteen: girls comb their hair in the rear-view mirror and the boys try to look so hard. It really hits on the performance of youth.

 

I was just talking to someone about why the novel is called Teenager. About how when I was that age, I didn’t really know exactly what I could get away with, that time when you’re just stepping away from your parents and their home, their rules, and as good as home was or as bad as it was, you are yourself for the first time, often in those stolen little moments, often with your friends. You know, the girl combing her hair in the rearview mirror is doing it to be looked at, to see if she is admired by someone in the back seat, but she’s also looking in the rear view to figure out who she is going to be for the rest of her life. And the boys trying to act hard are going to find out how tough they are when they actually have to fight their first fights for looking tough. You learn who you are to the world pretty quick when you’re that age, and you spend the rest of your life fighting against it or surrendering to it. Being a teenager is new and seeing things for the possibilities there, your life can change for the better at any moment. 

 

 

Can you talk about Kody’s seizures? What was the impetus for giving him this condition? The hallucinatory language of those scenes was almost startling, not just the imagery, but the way in which it is written.

 

I was thinking of those prophets who had visions, Moses with the burning bush. Maybe Moses had seizures, maybe his reality melted and when it melted, maybe God talked to him, but God was in his head. Once it starts to become like that, well maybe that talking snake in the Garden of Eden isn’t the Devil either, maybe you’ve just cracked your head open. The language in Teenager slips away as hallucination and fantasy opens like a flower. This is a realist work, with the door open for dreams, visions, nightmares, and the little hopes that keep people going. Teal imagining that if they get caught by the police, perhaps she and Kody can share a prison cell for the rest of their life, and have a family in prison, and the children will be born behind bars and eventually grow up in the prison and have their own children, making Kody and Teal happy incarcerated grandparents. To me, the unlikely miracles that Teal and Kody hope for are no different than any of those Bible stories. 

 

Is there an American Dream? Was Hunter Thompson correct that it died in Las Vegas, or was it somewhere else? Is America an adult playground in the desert or a hamster wheel where every suburb and travel plaza and exit off the interstate looks the same?

 

The American Dream is just another thing that isn’t real anymore, or ever was. That’s why it’s called a dream, you’d have to leave your physical reality to find it. What we have is just another marketing campaign, for some nostalgic product that didn’t really exist to begin with. I do believe there is freedom for the individual in America, some parts of the globe don’t have this same level of individual freedom. That’s a fact. I love the citizens of this country, the roads that snake through it, the places on the wayside, the surprises. I’d feel that way of any country that’d accept me as a citizen. This earth is beautiful, in its own way, wherever you travel, if you look for the beauty of nature, you’ll find it. But you have to be looking. So really, the dream of the whole world is what I care about. Because it’s people that matter. Me, as an individual, all I can do in America is try to surround myself with friends and neighbors that I care about and try to do my part in caring for them. We do not have a utopia from sea to shining sea here. But it’s possible to make something close to a utopia in the room you are in now, with the people you care about. 

 

 

Can you talk about Elvis as America’s Jesus? (an idea thrown out in the book) Who is the new Elvis? 

 

We don’t have an American Jesus, either. Nobody is kind enough to match the storybooks. Nobody is magnanimous. There’s too much coverage, and all our would-be Jesuses are exposed for their human erroring right out the gate. There’s no way to maintain that facade anymore, the public relations can’t compete. When Elvis was revered, the information about him was as controlled as it ever was with any political figure. In Teenager, the Carticelli family has left the Catholic Church, for what they say has to do with the hypocrisy of priests and what the media has brought to light in regard to the molestation of small children, but that is happening in their own home. In reality, they have left the Catholic Church because the family had to get their daughter an abortion. The unspoken fear being: Is it the boyfriend’s child? Is it the father’s child? Which reminded me of Joseph and Mary and Jesus Christ himself. What child is this? 

 

Click here to purchase a copy of Grant Maierhofer’s The Compleat Lungfish.

 

Derek Maine: I’m writing from the train. I am taking the train up to DC, from North Carolina where I live, with my eight-year-old daughter. I am taking her to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I like reading & writing on a train. I like watching the landscapes pass by, some slow, others more quickly, and I like seeing my daughter with her headphones on, watching her shows while I read and write. Both of us together, but also consciously connected to our entertainments – – – our own distractions. I think about the connection of our lonely consciousnesses a lot, and something of your work stirs me toward these thoughts every time. There’s a line in Gass’s The Tunnel where our despicable narrator says something about his literature being a container for his consciousness. Do you feel any connection to this in your own work? Are you intentional about representing something of the experience of living in your literature? Where do you think these urges come from? Sometimes I worry that I don’t exist without a record of it and creating literature is leaving clues, for someone further along, at some distant, inconceivable date, to decipher, and that my reading is deciphering those clues left for me. Your work gives me a sense of trying to come to terms with having to exist. Peripatet (Inside the Castle, 2019) seemed to me to answer at least some of these questions of how to endure by pointing to literature, art, film, and entertainments generally – – – both the consumption and creation as salvation. I feel a subtle shift with The Compleat Lungfish (Apocalypse Party, 2022), where something more primal (or base, I guess, in Bataille language) is perhaps more than simply a drive to endure but there may actually be a construct of meaning to be found within it, satisfactory enough to contain the possibility of enjoying the struggle (and yet further along the philosophical track than tricking ourselves into imagining Sisyphus happy). Do these two constructs for enduring build off each other, or exist separately, or do you think you have experienced a shift in your thinking? 

 

My questions might all be like this. And I want you to feel comfortable ignoring every aspect of my bullshit and talking about whatever you would like to talk about, for as little or as long as you like, if you do not connect in any way to my babbling. There exists, I think, these beautiful moments (almost like sparks, and just as fleeting, bright, & explosive – charged with an energy we cannot bottle or contain) where two consciousnesses are in synch, where one idea flows to the next and our thoughts are like radio waves floating through the air on a journey to locate that other consciousness and create that spark. You use repetition in this work (and across your works) and nod to it, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. I love it. There is one image in particular of the narrator in a bathtub, in Chicago I think, reading Bolaño or Exley (or both). It shows up in both Peripatet and The Compleat Lungfish. When I read about this moment in time, I feel less alone. I feel like I was there, with the narrator, because I was once, and because the moment that I was there I felt lonely, and then reading your description of the moment, a personal, private moment, I feel less alone as a reader. I think great literature can do that for the reader, but what about for the other end of that exchange – does a connection with the reader complete a work for you or is a reader incidental (or a burden). Do you think of a reader when you are working? How so or why not?

 

I promise this whole exchange won’t be like this. I am like this today. I don’t know why. I get older, though, and I let it happen however it happens.

 

Grant Maierhofer: Thank you for this. One of the things I miss most about living in Chicago is the trains. I used to think I read more because I have just kind of gotten dumber with time, and probably there’s some truth to that, but part of it too was living in Chicago and having that guaranteed thirty or so minutes between locations. I hope to take more Amtrak trips in time because I do feel there’s something really literary about that kind of travel–Mathias Enard’s Zone is probably my favorite illustrations of this, though there’s that Evenson story–I think it’s called Munich but that doesn’t seem right, it’s more fucked up than Zone–that I think’s in Altmann’s Tongue

 

I do tend to think of writing in terms of containing consciousnesses, though it’s probably less direct than it was when I was starting out. I started writing because of this feeling of a kind of overflow when I was in rehab in my mid-to-late teens. I liked and still have fondness for AA and NA, and I’ve had very positive experiences with therapy, and medication, and being in treatment. When I was in there, though, the second time, it became clear that there were thoughts I was thinking, and feelings I was having, that wouldn’t be addressed in meetings. Maybe this isn’t exactly correct, but it’s how I felt. I started to think about writing, and music, and art more generally, as things that could address the discomfort, and ugliness, and anger and just directionless energy, and I think if nothing else time has proven this to be true, for me. 

 

I also, and I don’t know why this is, but I also hated the notion of dying without leaving something behind. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation since I was seven or so, when I was put into an outpatient program for a kind of generalized misery my family and teachers were concerned about. The flipside I guess, of thinking often about killing yourself, is an amplified sense that you might soon die, and with that there was a panic that I hadn’t done anything to leave a mark, and writing, and art came in as a possible solution to this problem. 

 

Part of the trouble with thinking like this, though, and arriving at writing because of personal emotional and mental health concerns, is that I’m operating from that space first and foremost rather than one of simply loving literature. Because of that I enjoy Gass’ estimation and writing in Gass’ vein because although it was probably split down the middle for Gass between motivation via aesthetics and motivation via frustration and emotion, whereas for me it’s probably closer to 20/80. Books as containers, then, of documents of recording, of experiential things, tend to appeal to me far more than novels or memoirs or collections that succeed really well at being great novels, great memoirs, or great collections. An actual container of consciousness looks far more like Daniel Aaron’s Commonplace Book than it does A Little Life. I can appreciate the latter but I’m always going to get far more from the former. 

Below is a conversation between novelist Mesha Maren and copy editor Jude Grant–the copy editor Maren worked with on her first novel, Sugar Run, and her new novel, Perpetual West. You can order a copy of Perpetual West right here.

 


 

Mesha Maren: Before working with you on my first novel, Sugar Run, I had no real sense of what copyediting a work of fiction entailed. I was surprised and very delighted to learn that you would point out more than just my horrific misuse of commas. In that novel, I remember specifically being pleased at how well you kept track of physical descriptions of my characters. At one point in the book I described a woman’s breasts as “full” and at another point “perky” and you asked me if I felt that these descriptions were compatible. I was delighted and shocked at that level of specificity and it made me wonder about how you go about keeping track of details about fictional characters that even the author has not been able to manage?

 

Jude Grant: Note-taking, note-taking, note-taking. One of my weaknesses as a reader, especially when reading for pleasure, is that a character’s physical attributes just aren’t that interesting to me. Black hair? Blond hair? Don’t really care. (If pressed, I’ll champion “perky” over “full” breasts, but that is strictly personal preference and is an opinion without literary merit.) So my style sheets tend to be detailed, especially when it comes to characters’ physical traits, not because I think the proofreader will necessarily benefit from having that information but because those are the kind of details that are less likely to stick in my head. What characters say (content and language used) and how they behave are a different matter—all that deeply resonates and imprints on me. If characters were nothing but talking heads, I’d be happy (there are reasons I’m not a writer).

 

Once, I accepted a novel that was part of a long series, which I had not previously worked on. This kind of project is particularly tricky because you have to rely on style sheets from previous copyeditors, and those style sheets tend not to be cumulative; that is, they’re book specific, not series specific. So I was quite surprised to get a cover memo noting in bold caps that the protagonist’s name was Diane, not Diana. This was a character who’d appeared in all books in the series, yet at some point both the author and the copyeditor got her name wrong, and in more than one book, and it was readers of the author’s blog who pointed out the error and were (rightfully) not happy. 

Rita Banerjee interviews author David Shields about his book, Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention. Listen below:

 

Below is an excerpt from the transcript:

 

Rita Banerjee:    David, thank you so much for talking to me about Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump. I really enjoyed reading the book; I thought it was compelling and a really fast read. I just wanted to start off by asking you a question about the form of the book and its composition. You often call this  a curated diary or a thematized journal, and it seems like there are six major acts to this book, everything ranging from “A rage to injure what has injured us” to “Apocalypse always.” How do these major themes tie into one another and build up to the book’s final epiphany?

David Shields:    Thanks, Rita. The book is indeed broken into six chapters. What is it, this culture that we are living in, which seems qualitatively different from previous political cataclysms? As a citizen of the republic, what could I do to address it? There is or was something riveting about the Performer-In-Chief. There’s something in him – we can all pretend that we’ve turned it off, and maybe some of us have. I wanted to explore this mixture of revulsion and attraction. Not to any political stance of his, but to his performative chops. I’m a big fan of the idea that great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings. On the one hand, my intellectual self is actively opposed to him; I’m doing all kinds of things to contribute to his defeat.. But there’s this other quite primitive part of me that is fascinated by the fact that he is still President. So I just kept a journal. Every day I’d walk around the house with my headphones on. I’d be flying back and forth from CNN to MSNBC to Fox News, from Christian talk radio to NPR to local news. I read every book about and putatively by him. I listened to every episode of the Howard Stern Show with Trump and I watched every episode of The Apprentice. With this onslaught of media coming in, it almost felt as if I were in a war zone. That was important to me, to just gather all of this stuff. I had hundreds upon hundreds of pages of this stuff, but I wanted to organize it into a very carefully structured pattern. =This book is organized within an inch of its life. Among the many things I find exciting about collage, is that it can boundary jump. One of the pleasures of writing this book for me, and I hope for a reader, is you never know what’s going to come next. I can cut to anywhere I want to go as long as I am getting a deeper purchase on Trump. The whole excitement of this form is that you’re not just making a fictional gesture or essayistic gesture or a stand-up comedy gesture. You can pull from any possible pot of clay, so long as you are deepening your investigation. I also hope that it almost feels for reader that you are spying on the writer as he is going on this existential adventure. And the reader kind of feels like, “this is actually adding up to something.” One of the chapters, “A rage to injure what’s injured us,” is really about Trump’s childhood. There is a wonderful line by Robert Hass from his great poem“Bush’s War.” He says that there is a rage to injure what’s injured us. Without turning Trump into simply a psychoanalytic category, he was demolished by his father. He’s hugely projecting that anger elsewhere. Then there’s the chapter “The frenzy of the visible” in which he’s trying to experience love through the media. There’s this amazingly interesting feedback loop in which he’s watching TV watch him watch TV watch him. It’s like Being There  times one hundred, in which he’s trying to experience love through media forms. Out of his broken childhood, he became incapable of human love. Out of that incapacity, he attempted to live within a sort of “mediaverse,”hoping and believing that somehow the big TV in the sky would love him back. The big message of the book is that he may destroy the planet out of the rage that has injured him. The final revelation of the book is that the thing that will save us is Trump’s self-destruction. There’s such profound self-loathing that animates his hatred. I argue that before Trump destroys the planet, he’ll destroy himself. The book is making a very clear argument about how brokenness leads to lovelessness, how that lovelessness leads to an over investment in media culture, how that media culture can in no way can yield a love that he wants, how out of that emptiness creates a huge drive of destruction, and how the possible saving grace is that he finally will self-destruct. It’s a beautiful and terrifying circle.Hidden within these 400 paragraphs is this relatively tight psychosocial argument of the book. It’s really a very specific investigation – how destruction comes from in its own woundedness, how it projects itself outward, how it often defeats itself through self-loathing.

Last August a photo of Brad Phillips’ book Essays and Fictions was posted on Instagram.  The picture was a close up of Anthony Bourdain’s blurb—he’d only died a couple months earlier—that read “searingly honest, brilliant, and disturbing…” I guess I’m a sucker for excellent marketing, because I wanted to read the book immediately.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the novel’s release, and since the Instagram caption said advanced readers copies were available, I emailed Tyrant Books and requested one.

Essays and Fictions is a perfect example of why I love to read. Reading a book for the first time, a book I’ll grow to love, is an intimate process. The words on the page somehow seep into me, and the story stays inside long after the book is finished. The eleven stories in Essays and Fictions painstakingly focus on overlapping subject matter like drug addiction, sex, pain, loss, suicide and love—topics considered ‘disturbing,’ but the writing in this book about these topics is not only beautiful, but deeply sincere.

When I really love a book, I become obsessed and I do this thing: underlining various sentences, posting the underlined sentences on Instagram stories, tweeting sentences I connect with. I google the author, what else have they written that I can read right now? During one of my Brad Phillips k-holes online I found another blurb, The Paris Review said of Brad’s work, “He doesn’t ask to be liked, even by his groupies, but he does want to communicate: ‘I’m not interested in the ones who are drawn to the creator of the work, I’m interested in the ones who are drawn to the content.’”

In Essays and Fictions, I’m drawn to both.

Brad and I corresponded in December 2018, after I finished the book, via a Google doc. The following is what we talked about.

Tabitha Blankenbiller is the author of Eats of Eden: A Foodoir, published by Alternating Currents Press in March 2018. It’s a collection of personal essays, each ending with a recipe. It’s also a coming-of-age story, charting the author’s parallel development as writer, cook, and human. We follow her ambitions and dreams of perfection—at her desk, in the kitchen, and in the realm of friendship and marriage. We cheer her on as if she were our best friend. Because it feels like she is. Sarah Einstein says, “Reading Eats of Eden is like having a delicious leisurely lunch with a smart, insightful friend.” Melissa Grunow says, “Blankenbiller has packaged longing, self-doubt, body image, and love for others and food into fun and fulfilling narrative recipes for living an authentic life.” I agree. She is our companion and our guide.

I first heard Emily Mitchell read over a year ago at a reading series I host in Baltimore. I have a bit of a crush on female writers who explore literary oddity with sci-fi strains (although I have had a hard time defining exactly what that means—I’m thinking a mix of Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula Le Guin, and Shirley Jackson), and I was excited to host an author from just a few miles down the road, teaEmily-Mitchell_0035-3297705591-O-199x300ching at University of Maryland, who was exploring similar themes in her work.

She read a story from a forthcoming collection of short stories about a newly divorced mother who takes her daughter to a store to pick out a Companion, a robotic pet designed to help children cope with challenges and build confidence and empathy. Only the divorcee is surprised that, of all the animals her daughter could get, she chooses a spider.

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Michelle Brafman’s debut novel, Washing the Dead (Prospect Park Books, 2015) is, above all things, about the healing power of love and forgiveness, about letting go of the toxic wounds of betrayal and hurt. In fact, Brafman experienced a similar transformative purge; she admits that she felt “fluish” at times when writing it. The novel, told in first person by Barbara Blumfield when she is 17 and also when she is  53 (the two narratives woven together in what Brafman calls a double helix), centers on her family’s expulsion from their Orthodox Jewish community after her mother has an affair with a gentile. After Barbara is called back to the community thirty-five years later to perform the ritual burial washing of her beloved teacher, she is forced to confront her mother’s sins and secrets, as well as her own.

 

JEN MICHALSKI: Washing the Dead explores themes of exile, forgiveness, and redemption in an Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee, and you start it off with a bang: an affair. So where did that come from?

MICHELLE BRAFMAN: Yes, the inciting event in the book occurs when the main character, Barbara, discovers that her mother is having an affair, and so begins the family’s exile from their spiritual community. I’ve been told that the story reads a bit like a mystery, and as you read on, you learn that nothing that happens in these opening pages, including the affair, is as it seems. Affairs are complicated, I think. Perhaps they are often less about succumbing to some hot sticky lust and more about escaping an unbearable emotional intensity or healing old wounds or filling unmet needs for love or myriad other motivations. I wasn’t thinking so clinically, though, when I decided to use the affair as a means to launch this family into the diaspora. The idea evolved from digging into my characters’ family history and imagining how the carnage from their secrets might be expressed via misdirected and destructive efforts to secure love.

jerry.gabriel.high.rezJerry Gabriel’s second collection of fiction, The Let Go (Queens Ferry Press, April 2015) is old school. The reader is transported back to a golden age of the long, simmering short story, with its distinctly American milieu—the working class rust belt, boys at the cusp of adulthood, simmering cold war politics. As writer Charles Baxter notes, Gabriel’s characters are “barely hanging on and fear the let go”—of jobs, of identity, of innocence. And yet it’s hard not to feel the affection Gabriel has for them. The collection is less a suicide note of the American dream than a love letter to the tenacity of those caught it its clutches.

 

JEN MICHALSKI: The first thing that struck me after finishing The Let Go (and this is something my girlfriend points out to me all the time, for I do the same thing in my writing), is that, in addition to their mid-western milieu, so many of your characters are at the cusp of manhood (late adolescence or early twenties). Do you feel that your own crossover into adulthood had an impact on your writing life that is reflected in your choice of younger protagonists, or do you feel you are finally at a safe, wise distance to examine the folly of youth (and too close to write about, say, parenthood and mid-life). Or is it something else completely that drives you towards the troubled young souls in your work?

Chris Leslie-Hynan is a very busy man these days. With the success of his first novel, Ride Around Shining, he has been touring on and off for well over the last year. I caught up with him somewhere around Las Vegas to discuss his novel and also some of the biases and expectations he had to confront when writing about race, class, and envy.

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NOAH CICERO:  I finished your book and loved it.

Thanks for giving me a copy, I’m going to read Ben’s now.

I’m lying on a couch being really lazy, writing this.  I feel so lazy lately, I think it’s because I’m going off my medication, Seroquel XR, it basically causes me to sleep 10 hours a night, so I can’t even work a 40-hour week.  I factually don’t have enough energy to do it.  I can’t wake up before 8 a.m., and I can’t work the late shift without worrying about the stupid pill. All because I got really into Buddhism and meditate now and feel happy and okay with everything, so maybe I rewired myself and can go on.

Here are some questions:

Desire Will Set You Free 2

When Yony Leyser wrapped his first film, the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, Leyser indulged TNB with a round of 21 Questions. Now, Leyser’s back with his second film, Desire Will Set You Free, a feature film he describes as “venturing into docufiction.” Starring Leyser, Amber Benson, Peaches, Nina Hagen, and other faces familiar to the Berlin underground, Desire Will Set You Free tells the story of the relationship between an “American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent and a Russian aspiring artist working as a hustler, offering access to the city’s vibrant queer and underground scenes while examining the differences between expatriate and refugee life.” Leyser has completed shooting on the film and is now looking to Kickstarter to fund the rest as he’d successfully done with A Man Within. Leyser has blogged in-depth about the making of Desire Will Set You Free at Indiewire along the way, and as the Kickstarter nears its end I asked Leyser just a few questions about Desire Will Set You Free, a project based on his own experiences in Berlin.

Byrkit colored

Please explain what just happened.

You just walked in. A Question Robot with an attitude. Hello.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Not my earliest, but when I was five, I pushed a tin can deep into a huge barrel of duck feed, specifically as an act to remember forever.

SeanHartofilis_FC2 cropPlease explain what just happened.

I saw my nieces in the basement. They’re up from Florida and are the best.  

 

What is your earliest memory?

At track practice when I was very little, I overran the finish line and was jumped, for reasons I’ll never understand, by two little boys who I’m guessing were brothers. They pushed me down and pulled my hair and kicked me. Then their mother showed up and did the same to them. I wrote about it in a short story published by The Harlem Times called “The Summer of St. Nick.”  

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).