Rosecrans Baldwin: The TNB
By Rosecrans Baldwin
August 14, 2010
So, Rosecrans Baldwin, what are some of your favorite self-interviews conducted by others?
Okay, well, “Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould.” You can find it in Tim Page’s Glenn Gould Reader, or narrated a bit in Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Basically, Gould interrogates himself winsomely. And I think the album Conversations with Myself, by Bill Evans, is sort of a self-interview. Evans would lay down one part of a song, play it back and record another, playing along with his previous part. A bit like that Coetzee book where each page is divided vertically between three narrators.
Diary of a Bad Year.
Well, ooh-we, how high-falutin’! Do you want to tell me something now about James Joyce’s violet pony?
I didn’t know Joyce had a pony! I’ve read that he wrote at a small table at home, that he didn’t have a fancy setup. Like Jane Austen, whom I’ve read worked at a tiny table. Apparently Joyce was very funny. I think I read he was good at impressions, like Philip Roth. Joyce shows up in John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse. Now that’s an extremely good, sexy, very readable book. Hmm, what do I mean by “readable”?
Like how wine critics say something is “drinkable.” Not as a measurement of quality, but a warning to the consumer. DO NOT FEAR, I BRING NO FEARSOME TANNINS. A way of saying approachable, I guess, in a way that Sound and Fury is not.
Though J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition is very readable, it’s even got pictures!
Pictures that are not safe for work! Well, what, if anything, does this have to do with your new novel, You Lost Me There? Is You Lost Me There in any way a self-interview? My theory is that you wrote a novel about a neuroscientist because neuroscience is a hot topic.
No. If that were true, I would have written a memoir about an angel-vampire who finds love in Goa while cooking Jane Austen’s favorite recipes, all of which I have done.
When I started writing this book, I didn’t know much about it. I knew I wanted to set it on Mount Desert Island, an island off southern Maine. Didn’t really know, but I sensed it.
And why is that?
It’s my favorite place in the world. It’s where my grandmother is from. Her father, my great-grandfather, moved them to Bar Harbor from Albany, N.Y., during the Depression. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. It’s the largest island off Maine’s coast. On the one hand, it’s mostly wild. Acadia National Park, which is largely situated on the island, is mountainous, covered with forests and lakes. It’s a place where, if you’re smart, you can hike for days without seeing anyone else. But the island has also been tamed. The national park made Mount Desert Island a tourist attraction for millions of visitors each year. So it’s a useful petri dish for a novel. I guess Mount Desert Island is the place where I feel most at home. People mind their own business. It’s a unique slice of America. Wild, domesticated, isolated, freaky in spots.
Which all plays into the story in You Lost Me There?
Sure. Aside from the summer visitors, there’s a hardy, year-round population of people on the island that are warm to outsiders, but not too warm. Scientists, fishermen, academics, hippies, all types. Victor, the book’s main character, is one of them. He’s a year-rounder who runs a research lab at a scientific institute on the island, and he’s also a widow. I had a feeling he would be struggling but also succeeding, perhaps superficially, with being alone on an island where solitude is prized.
Didn’t Linda Greenlaw, one of the boat captains featured in Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, didn’t she already cover all that in her book, The Lobster Chronicles?
Not at all, though that is a terrific book. And a number of great books have been about or set on Mount Desert Island (e.g., Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Story of Mount Desert Island, or Roxana Robinson’s Cost). For me, though, setting the book there, it wasn’t really a conscious decision. I graduated college in 1999 and started writing novels. I’d work on them in the mornings before going to work, and it took me about seven years to write two 400-page monsters, and both of them were terrible. They were too conceptual, frankly too much me trying to imitate DeLillo, whom I’m over the moon about. So I was depressed and angry and frustrated. I decided, before beginning another couple years’ worth of work, that I wanted to write a novel for me, one that, whether or not it was published, would be wholly mine.
And is it?
Yup. Warts and all.
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