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William Giraldi: Interview by Charles Homar, the narrator/memoirist of Busy Monsters

 

Getting you to sit down with me has been like trying to get a fabulist to spell quotidian.  I’ll start by saying you’re a rat and fink, no closer to Christian doing than Luther was to a lass’s panties.  Individuals should abandon you.  And you’ve been dodging me, coward.  Look: You stole my story and passed it off as your own.  You know you’ve filched.  And lied.  You put your name on my adventures, my memoirs, and called it Busy Monsters because apparently you believe—I don’t know—what?  You can bamboozle book-buying citizens, that cabal on its last breath?  Get away with thievery?  Explain your fallen self.  This is malarkey most foul.  I believe you owe me money.

Thank you, Charles, for the opportunity to talk.  I cooked you up in the black-hole gravity of my imagination—

 

I quote Stendhal when I can and now’s a ripe time: “It is only imagination that can resist imagination.” Respond, go ahead.

Okay.  You’re angry.  But really, Charlie, just because you have the gall to grow a consciousness and spring to life doesn’t mean you have to be the, you know, the belligerent child.  I understand the son’s Freudian slaughterous urge to wipe out the father but—

 

How we flatter ourselves!  Father!

I was saying: My son, Ethan, is two years old now and you might just have him beat in the arena of id-driven escapades.

 

Scallywag.  Louse.  Listen: we can get gentlemanly here if 1) you apologize for taking all the credit, because, really, Giraldi, you stung my feelings, ingrate, and 2) you at least agree to begin a dialogue about monetary matters in my direction.  If I’m a carapace of contempt, well, you made me, as you insist, so congratulations.  There’s hardly an hour in my adventures when I fail in anomie, embrace the anodyne—

Yes, or don’t drip in alliteration.  All right, you have a deal, Charles.  I’m sorry for taking the applause, I am.  But what did you expect exactly, that I make the author of Busy Monsters Charles Homar and not put my own name on the book?  You’re a magazine writer and memoirist, I know, but what would have happened if some readers went looking for Charles Homar, author of Busy Monsters, only to find that he doesn’t really exist?

 

Which OED definition of exist are you using here, the first or second?

Charles, do you have any actual questions or are you just going to sit there with that ruck in your brow and spew aspersions my way?  You’re like a rapscallion out of Moliere.

 

Let us proceed then.  Apology partially accepted.  (Moliere? Really?)  What was it like to . . . make me?

I’m glad you asked.  It was a headache to make you, Charlie, because you have this way of speaking, of thinking, of writing, that wants to rile up, subvert normalcy as if a scientist had informed you that normalcy’s a plague.  It’s not, in my opinion, but you thought so from the word go.  I’m a cauldron of anxiety and dread without the dullness of routine.  I don’t risk rapture.  I can’t stand to be away from my B’s: my baby, my bride, my books, my bed, my bathroom.  But you, you’re a seditious warp—

 

“Against the burly air I strode/ Crying the miracles of God.”  That a bit of Geoffrey  Hill, your former teacher, sounding more than a little like Whitman, methinks.

Yes, well, I suppose that’s true . . . But I was saying: You kept fighting me on what to say and do, and so I’d push you one way and you’d claw back at me and determine your own channel.  When Gillian, your fiancé, dumped you to pursue the giant squid with that marine biologist, I had firm plans for you to examine emotionally, quietly, why she would do such a thing—find God, if you will, get monastic like that headcase you always mention, Martin Luther, get interior, something Jamesian—but you insisted on multitudes of mayhem.  Outward explosions of emotion.  And so we have your Quixotic, On-the-Road exploits from coast to coast and the monsters you fixate upon.  I love you, I do, Charlie, but you can be so . . . uproarious.

 

Uproarious.  Right.   Don’t badmouth Luther.  He was a gutsy gent with a rebel yell; we’d all be doing the Stations of the Cross right now and trying to know the ins and outs of transubstantiation if it hadn’t been for him.  Anyway, I’ve heard tell that I occurred to you while reading Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote and the Fagles translation of The Odyssey.  Speak, memory.

That’s true, yes, and also the ecstatic fiction of Barry Hannah, and every book by storywriter Lee K. Abbott, who writes with a wand instead of a pen.  And I mean ecstatic in the original Dionysian sense: a daemonic reaching after divinity; a way of singing that approaches the Sublime.  I wrote a religious book without intending to.  You are, like me, a lapsed Catholic: you thought Shelley was a safer bet than Christ.  But I stole some narrative tricks from Cervantes, yes, and there’s definitely a part of you that believes you’re Odysseus, for better or worse.  Mostly worse, I think.  Your quest is mythic: to regain your lost love while fending off monsters both imaginary and real.  You know, actually, I had originally conceived of Busy Monsters as a kind of romantic comedy, but you changed all that.

 

Well thank heavens.  About the Shelley over Christ remark: Keep me out of your hand-basket to hell, thanks.  You know what Sartre said about atheism: it’s a cruel and long-range affair, and I’ve been avoiding cruelty the way Oscar Wilde avoided vagina.  So what about these monsters?  What makes them so busy?

Bigfoot, Nessie, space aliens, vampires, ghosts that go boo: they never sleep, never rest, never die because they belong to the caverns of our minds, are outgrowths of our Jungian collective psyche, our fears and desires made physical.  When Gillian leaves you to pursue the giant squid, you feel compelled to one-up her, to dazzle, to win her back by bagging your own monster, but surprise, surprise, where do the real monsters reside, Charles?

 

If you say inside every human heart I’m going to urp unkindly.

Inside every human heart, that’s right!  I wanted you to run contrary to the stereotype that men don’t go ballistic with overweening emotion, that women only are beset by hysteria, blitzed by heartwreck.  So the book became a comment on American masculinity because you keep wanting to do the manly thing—with guns and knives and muscles and what-have-you—but the manly thing never seems to work out for you.

 

If you’re suggesting I’m a sissy, I’ll sue.  For slander.  For calumny most erroneous.  I happen to be as masculine as, say, Norman Mailer circa 1969.  Ahem.  Next inquiry: What about the inebriated style?  Or better: Why?

Geoffrey Hill was my teacher in grad school, you’re right about that, and I spent a year with him studying Gerard Manley Hopkins, and that experience with Hill, with being immersed in Hopkins’s sprung rhythm, never left me.  I don’t mean I wanted to get down in prose what Father Hopkins put into verse—I wouldn’t be able; no one would— but only that Hopkins’s lines are always on rotation in my unconscious.  When I say I wrote a religious book I mean the language, because your way of apprehending the world is done through your syntax and word choice—the same way Father Hopkins intended to reach Christ in his sprung rhythm.  So in that way language and theme, or the word and the plot, are indistinguishable.  Hopkins would have revolted against the suggestion that he shared a Whitmanian sublime, or, worse, a Dionysian ecstasy, but he did, and so do you, Charles.

 

That’s sweet.  I have a dentist appointment.  Goodbye, Giraldi.  Go be monsterful.  And send me a check.

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WILLIAM GIRALDI teaches at Boston University and is a senior editor for the journal AGNI. A regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, he was a finalist for a 2011 National Magazine Award in the category of Essays and Criticism. Busy Monsters is his first book.

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