Waldo, FL porn bookshop hit with homemade WMD

Cafe Risque — now an adult entertainment chain that runs up into the Carolinas — began in Central Florida. Driving to Gainesville from Miami in the 90′s, you’d start seeing the billboards of bra-clad, open-mouthed women well before Orlando. They always looked a little jaundiced in the renderings.

My favorite signs were the unadorned red-and-yellow ones that heralded the “Great food!” and the “Clean showers!” “Truckers and Couples Welcome!” they said. (Billboard image found here.)

But Micanopy, the Gainesville-area town where the strip club began, is a live-and-let-live sort of hippy place. Now Cafe Risque’s owner plans to open an adult bookstore that will sell “magazines, videos and sex toys” — in Waldo, Florida (population 821).

Approximately 20% of the town showed up under the banner “Americans for Morality” to protest last month. When that didn’t deter the adult entertainment mogul from setting up shop, somebody resorted to a little WMD moonshine:

[A] rudimentary device [spewed] a hazardous substance through a hose into the Cafe Risque Adult Super Center.

Neighbors noticed a liquid leaking through a door of the business at 17301 NE U.S. 301 and called the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office about 6:45 a.m. Sunday. Within hours, the adult bookstore – which will sell magazines, videos and sex toys – was overtaken with hazardous materials teams in full gear, firefighters, police and the Department of Environmental Protection.

The source of the leak was a water hose connected to two gallon-sized jugs of an unknown substance atop the business’ air conditioner. Preliminary tests indicate the substance was corrosive in nature.

(Via #1, who’s got an LIC strip club story.)

Check back Friday

Really sorry, guys, but it’s that kind of week. A few quick things to feed the RSS:

  • Left Behind Christian apocalypse novels spawn a bigoted video game.
  • Banville will pen a screenplay based on The Sea; he envisions Anthony Hopkins or Michael Gambon in the lead role.
  • A British county’s reading campaign involves “scatter[ing] 100 copies of a Jane Austen classic in public places across Hampshire.”
  • The author of The Graduate, from which the film of the same name was adapted, has signed a deal to write a sequel. (Previously: the author, having signed away film rights for a pittance, was having trouble making rent.)
  • Laila Lalami finds the world of Meg Mullins’ The Rug Merchant “engaging, but not fully rewarding.”
  • Voltaire’s letters to Catherine the Great fetch $750K, breaking the prior “world record for handwritten correspondence” from the period. Some of the letters are signed “the old hermit.”
  • Muriel Spark and new Dr. Who David Tennant donated items to an Edinburgh book sale.

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that usually appears Mondays at 12:30pm and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please send details to lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

MONDAY, 5.29: “Whispering in the Giant’s Ear is William Powers’s story of working in the Bolivian Amazon after resigning from administrative posts in aid agencies. Powers takes the salary of a local & gives up his luxe apartment in La Paz to work for a local NGO whose focus is deforestation.” The author gives a public reading at The Half King on Monday evening. Recommended. 7:00pm, FREE. At IFC Center, Three Times tells three different interwoven love stories, of which New York Times critic A.O. Scott said, “This is why cinema exists — it creates an emotional and sensual effect that is something like falling in love.”” Today’s showtimes are 3:40 and 6:15, $10.75.

TUESDAY, 5.30: KGB Non-Fiction Night presents an evening devoted to the pleasures of “Prison, Diamonds, Catfights,” with short readings by David Goewey (The Crash Out), Susan Shapiro Barash (Tripping the Prom Queen), and Tom Zoellner (The Heartless Stone). 7:00pm, FREE.

WEDNESDAY, 5.31: Michael Cunningham discusses his controversially received latest work, Specimen Days, in conversation at Symphony Space. Recommended. 7:00pm, $18. Downtown, Matthew Pearl reads from his latest novel, The Poe Shadow, at Barnes & Noble, Astor Place. Interestingly, the author also edited a trilogy of Poe’s detective stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 7:00pm, FREE. In Brooklyn, Sheila Kohler reads from two of her novels, Cracks and Children of Pithiviers, newly reissued by Other Press, at BookCourt. 8:00pm, FREE. Additionally, the Media That Matters Film Festival screens “16 inspiring short films” at IFC Center. 7:00pm, $11.

THURSDAY, 6.1: Novelists Bruce Bauman (And The Word Was) and Darin Strauss (The Real McCoy) read from their work at Pete’s Candy Store. Recommended. 7:00pm, FREE. And, cultural impresario Cheryl B. presents the Poetry vs. Comedy Variety Show at Galapagos Art Space. 8:00pm, FREE. Additionally, at Bluestockings: “Through exposition, photography and illustrations, Inspired Lives: The best of Real Life Yoga from Ascent Magazine presents dynamic stories that distill the essential teachings of yoga into the art of living life. Featuring readings by Sparrow, author of America: A Prophecy, Michael McColly, author of The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism, and Clea McDougall, the editor of Inspired Lives.” 7:00pm, FREE.

FRIDAY, 6.2: Better borough: Brooklyn or Queens? If you care, Gotham Girls Roller Derby will help you find out. 7:30pm, $12.50.

SATURDAY, 6.3: Video art offers some of today’s most astute and compelling social and political commentary. At The Kitchen, “New Video, New Europe is a survey exhibition of recent video work by more than three dozen artists from sixteen Eastern European countries stretching from the Baltic through the Balkans, including Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The works in the exhibition reflect a variety of genres and approaches – documentary, diaristic, ethnographic, and experimental – and are broken up into a series of five programs which tackle different themes.” And, “Japan Society Gallery, along with other museums and galleries belonging to the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, is taking part in the annual week-long and city-wide Asian Contemporary Art Week. This year’s exhibition — Fast Futures: Asian Video Art — presents single channel video works by leading and emerging Asian artists. Japan Society will present new works produced by Bea Camacho (The Philippines), Enclose; Hiraki Sawa (Japan), Trail; and several works by Koki Tanaka (Japan).” And then, of course, there’s Crumpler Beer for Bags 2006.

SUNDAY, 6.4: Our very own Maud, quite magnetic herself, reads from her novel-in-progress at Magnetic Field, with fellow “great Brooklyn writers” Donald Breckenridge (6/2/95) and Amanda Stern (The Long Haul), and a ukulele interlude by the charismatic Max Steele.” 7:30pm, FREE. As you may know, I am crazy about Russian everything. In fact, I was planning to post a note in this week’s Smart Set asking about the best Russian restaurant to have dinner at on my upcoming birthday but I think I’ve settled on Uncle Vanya. Anyway, I just got a note from Natasha Randall, “guest editor of a special portfolio on Russian writing that is coming out in the next issue of A Public Space (June 2006).” There will be a party at KGB on Sunday evening for the issue, including highlights such as “never-before-published treasures of 20th century Russian literature, some crazy Russian absurdists and some fresh young talent. There will also be a big feature on ‘Home-made Russian Inventions’ – strange and wonderful contraptions that Soviets concocted to get by…” 7:00pm, FREE.

UPCOMING: Chunky Move: I Want to Dance Better at Parties.

Signing off

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

That’s all for me for this week. Maud returns — flush with poker winnings, hangover remedies and a whole lot of recyclables — after her “holiday” weekend. Here in Canada the holiday was last weekend — Victoria Day. Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that either. I celebrated like all good Canadians — by going on a long disco cruise around Vancouver with a bunch of drag queens and leather boys. God save the queens, y’all. See you soon.

Remains of the day: Lazy Friday edition

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

  • Vanessa Redgrave to do a one-woman show of Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking! A thoroughly swoonable combination.

  • Peter Carey is inteviewed at the Independent, and snaps at yet another reporter asking about his ex-wife.

  • Joseph Bednarik, marketing director of Copper Canyon Press, wonders how we might turn an ever-proliferating pool of MFAs into a resource to bolster the ever-diminishing market for literary fiction (Via Bookninja).

  • Over at the Guardian, Matthew Pearl presents his top ten books inspired by the writing of Edgar Allen Poe. No word yet on the eagerly awaited list of top ten pizzas inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.

  • Pen names: sometimes it’s not good when your cover gets blown. Like when you’re a children’s author who starts writing hard-core erotica.

  • Janet Maslin on why some books – including The Da Vinci Codedon’t necessarily make good movies. Or good books, even. But great tools for making a bazillion dollars, anyway.


    Until next week

    I’m off to get started on the long weekend (translation: work on all the things I meant to finish so I could enjoy the extra time off).

    The dreamy Annie Reid takes over tomorrow and most Fridays. There’s no Memorial Day up there in Canada, you know. Just Victoria Day, and that universal favorite: Towel Day.

    Have a great holiday.

    Three responses to Lolita

    In August 1954, Edmund Wilson invited Vladimir Nabokov to send along his latest novel. “I’d love to see it,” said Wilson. “[I]f nobody else is doing it, I’ll try to get my publisher, Straus, to.”

    But once Wilson actually read Lolita, he was far less sanguine. His response, dated November 30, 1954 (and taken from Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971), is hilarious in hindsight.

    Roger Straus lent me the MS of your book, and I read it when I was in New York — though rather hastily, because I had to give it back, and I have waited to write you about it till I could get some other opinions. I also had Elena [Wilson] and Mary [McCarthy] read it. I enclose Mary’s reactions from a letter to me, which she says I may quote to you. Elena seems to have liked the book better than either Mary or I — partly, I think, because she has seen America from the foreigner’s point of view and understands how it looks to your hero. The little girl, for example, seems quite all right to her, though rather implausible to me.

    I am afraid that you will never get the book published by anybody except perhaps Laughlin…. I like it less than anything else of yours I have read. The short story that it grew out of was interesting, but I don’t think the subject can stand this very extended treatment.

    Continue reading…

    Remainders: distracted Thursday edition

    • Edwidge Danticat, whose Haitian uncle died in Homeland Security custody while trying to enter Miami with a valid visa, offers a reflection on the recent immigration protests. (Via Moorish Girl; image taken from Miami Arch.)
    • Florida attorney Michael L. Silverman, outraged that the U.F. police are allegedly seeking DNA and fingerprints from a graduate student because he wrote a short story about murder, avails himself of the state’s sunshine law with an official request for information. (Background here.)
    • A collection of 94-year-old letters revealing “how close Charlotte Brontë came to being sued for the content of Jane Eyre” goes on sale in Shropshire on June 7.
    • Banville’s new crime novel is riveting. I’m a few chapters in and can’t wait to get back to it.
    • Sheila Heti, on one of her favorite writers: “I adore Jane Bowles. My Sister’s Hand in Mine collects her sole novel, play and story collection in one volume. She was American but lived in Tangiers mostly, and wrote in the 40s and 50s. Each sentence is a wild surprise, prim and odd and colloquial; she’s totally hilarious in the unsettling way of funny people who never smile at their own jokes. And she wastes no time.”
    • Rosemary Goring reports on Scotland’s new, Internet-focused libraries.
    • Pete Barr-Watson posts photos of MIT’s new $100 laptop for the developing world. (Via Boing Boing.)

    Thomson’s Revelation on screen

    Spurred by my recent interview with Rupert Thomson, a staff writer for Australia’s Limelight magazine sends word of a preliminary website and brief trailer for the film version of The Book of Revelation.

    The screenplay has been adapted by playwright Andrew Bovell & director Ana Kokkinos, who both worked on a film a few years earlier called Head On, also an adaptation of a book (Loaded, by Australian novelist Christos Tsiolkas).


    The largely Australian cast includes Tom Long, Greta Scacchi (The Player), and Colin Friels.

    An ad in the Sydney Film Festival program reportedly features this quote from festival director Lynden Barber: “A powderkeg of a film … boldly provocative, sharply intelligent, beautifully realised – and utterly original.”

    The Book of Revelation will be released later this year. (Thanks for the news, Lee.)

    Wednesday morning remainders

    • A stranger’s one-word response — “Distinctly” — to the question “Is it worth finishing?” was all the encouragement Joseph Conrad needed to keep working at his first novel. (Bonus Conrad links: Lennard Davis and Laila Lalami on teaching Heart of Darkness.)
    • Cuba is sending the U.S. Library of Congress copies of more than 20,000 papers relating to Ernest Hemingway. Among them are “letters in which Hemingway outlines his stance on World War Two and the Spanish Civil War.”
    • “Did we learn nothing from James Frey?” asks Jim Hanas. “Or did we learn everything?”

    If their books were any good at all

    Firedoglake counters the enthusiastic coverage of BookExpo with a report from an independent political publisher who formerly worked as a staff writer for Variety and producer for NPR’s On the Media.

    Book Expo … is primarily a ridiculous display of fawning and ass-kissing, a giant corporate junket courtesy of the massive marketing budgets at the Big Houses. It’s the yearly gathering where corporate newspaper and magazine reporters wander through thousands of booths, like so many rock stars, saying and writing glowing items about their corporate-publisher-siblings’ books. This process is facilitated by perky and usually blond publicists. Independent publishers are meant to pay the pricey admission just to watch, to stand on the sidelines and not get too familiar with the reporters and reviewers, because really, darling… if their books were any good at all, the Big Houses would have inked those deals.

    The writer, Jennifer Nix, works to find bloggers whose ideas could be transformed into books. She’s behind Glenn Greenwald’s #1 Amazon seller — still solidly in the top 100 — How Would a Patriot Act?. (Thanks, GMB.)

    Tuesday afternoon miscellany

    • John Banville, Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Lethem, Francisco Goldman, Rebecca Goldstein, William Gass and other writers reflect on the first novel. (Via Rockslinga; only some of the contributions are available online.)
    • John Derbyshire looks back at Lolita. Pandagon responds. (“I love it — most of us would assume someone who humps a 12-year-old like he’s a dog going after your leg is the dictionary definition of a ‘lousy lover’, but Derbyshire had to have someone point it out to him.”)
    • Accidental plagiarism, and writerly revenge for it. (“So last spring I’m reading a new GW collection and suddenly I come across a character with my name who gets struck and killed by a car.”)
    • Bill Paxton will star in an adaptation of The Second Coming, the only Walker Percy novel I’ve never read. Shooting begins in Greenville, S.C, next year.
    • A PBS documentary film series, Borders, includes writers Yiyun Li and Ariel Dorfman talking about “American Identity.”
    • Preparation for life?: Players of “The PATRIOT Act: The Home Version” board game “can be penalized for being Arab, sent to Guantánamo Bay and accused of sedition.”

    The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s Six-Day Forecast

    The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that usually appears Mondays at 12:30pm and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please send details to lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

    TUESDAY, 5.23: “Originally a diary on the popular website Daily Kos, Confessions of a Former Dittohead is a unique personal and political memoir that follows red-stater and social conservative Jim Derych on a unique journey from right to left. ” Derych reads from his book, out now from Brooklyn-based Ig Publishing, at Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village. 7:00pm, FREE.

    WEDNESDAY, 5.24: I am pretty sure that Brendan O’Shea, the singer-songwriter, is also Brendan O’Shea, the bartender at Scratcher, the Irish dive bar. In which case, he is a fox and everyone should check him out at Arlene’s Grocery on Wednesday evening. I’m sure he’s very talented or whatever. 9:00pm, FREE.

    THURSDAY, 5.25: Macadam/Cage authors Michelle Herman, author of Dog and Peter Rock, author of Unsettling, read from their respective novels at the Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village. [Full disclosure, as always: Michelle and I have worked together to promote her essay collection, The Middle of Everything] 7:30pm, FREE.

    FRIDAY, 5.26: “Set against the nautical backdrop of the South Street Seaport – at once a reminder of New York’s maritime past and its overwhelmingly mercantile present – Hope & Anchor dredges up ghosts and modern-day denizens then sends them crashing together in a gruff display of bad temper, dashed hopes and delayed deliverance. Fleeting images and tarnished sea shanties conjure semblances of sailors, sirens and impending storms. Garfield and Morris remind us of our potent connection to the sea, and our reliance on its good faith.” Dance, baby — it will set your heart on fire. 7:00pm, FREE.

    SATURDAY, 5.27: “At once drawing on Minimalist strategies of repetition and seriality, and pushing nontraditional materials toward new modes of expression, Hesse created an art that evoked emotion, absence, and contingency. The large-scale sculptures she created in latex and fiberglass for her only solo sculpture exhibition, Chain Polymers at the Fischbach Gallery in November 1968, secured her reputation. Eva Hesse: Sculpture focuses on that critical moment in Hesse’s career, bringing together most of the sculpture from that show as well as other significant latex works, key drawings, and test pieces from 1967–68.” At the Jewish Museum, and so highly recommended it’s ridiculous. On Saturdays through September, the museum’s galleries are open from 11 am – 5:45 pm and admission is FREE.

    SUNDAY, 5.28: The French thriller and literary adaptation par excellence La Moustache screens at IFC Center. I saw it last week, and was enamored of the way that the tautly structured plot cuts like a knife through cozy bourgeois sentiments. So Parisian, and yet… it could happen here. Highly recommended.

    UPCOMING: Beer for Bags.

    The elusive Harper Lee

    Thomas Mallon’s review of Charles J. Shields’ Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee doubles as a dismissal of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I last read in junior high school and have been meaning to revisit since I saw Capote.

    But it makes Lee sound fascinating.

    During the Second World War, Lee, a student at Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, shunned the standard cardigan-and-pearls attire of the all-female institution in favor of a bomber jacket she’d been given by her brother, an Army Air Corps cadet. Her language was “salty,” and she sometimes smoked a pipe, and, while her face seems to have been pleasantly approachable, she described herself as “ugly as sin.” After she transferred to the undergraduate law program at the University of Alabama, mostly to please her father, her lack of polish struck some as ill-suited to the judicial decorum she was being trained to observe.

    Growing up, she had preferred tackle to touch football, and tended to bully her friends, including the young Truman Capote, who, during the late nineteen-twenties and the thirties, was fobbed off by his feckless mother on relatives who lived in Lee’s home town, Monroeville. He put her into his fiction at least twice — as Idabel Tompkins (“I want so much to be a boy”), in “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” and as Ann (Jumbo) Finchburg, in “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Lee did the same for him in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” turning the boy Truman into Dill, an effeminate schemer with an enormous capacity for lying. One year, Lee’s father gave her and Truman a twenty-pound Underwood typewriter, which the two children managed to shift back and forth between their houses and use in the composition of collaborative fictions about the neighbors.

    Crews publishes new book, wisely avoids dull-ass people

    Speaking of Harry Crews, The Gainesville Sun reports that An American Family: The Baby with the Curious Markings, Crews’ first work of fiction in eight years, appears this month.

    The novella is put out by Blood & Guts Press, which also published Jim Thompson, James Elroy and Ray Bradbury, and the print run is 2,500 copies, with 300 “numbered, signed editions.” Copies will be shipped “to independent bookstores worldwide as orders come in.”

    Though Graham is already getting interest for Crews to promote the book, Crews is not interested.

    “I don’t want to go all over the (expletive) country. Talk to these dull-ass people who have absolutely no idea. They haven’t even read a (expletive) book. Man, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. It’s a waste of money, damn sure of that.”

    Crews is also “halfway through another novel, methodically turning out 500 words a day, which he hopes to complete this summer.” (Thanks to Rusty Barnes of Night Train for the news; so far I can only find the book at Amazon.)

    Write about murder in Gainesville, become a suspect

    Maybe because “Gainesville Ripper” Danny Rolling turned to poetry and art in prison while awaiting trial for the 1990 student murders, the police department serving my alma mater has a history of targeting writers and artists as potential killers.

    More than twelve years after Rolling pled guilty, that tradition is still going strong.

    The university police at Gainesville’s University of Florida have targeted a graduate student in the English program over his publication of a piece of horror fiction on his LiveJournal. The police have repeatedly visited the student and demanded that he submit his fingerprints and DNA to them so that they can compare the fictional murder he described in his story to evidence from any similar unsolved murders.

    Philip Sandifer is a graduate student in U. Fla’s English program, and keeps a personal creative writing journal called “Pulp Decameron,” where he posts very short stories in the styles of various pulp genres. The stories are released under a Creative Commons license. One story, I am Ready to Serve My Country, is a first-person account of a murderer who executes two victims before applying to the military.

    On May 12, detective Sanders of the University of Florida police left him a voicemail asking him to contact her. This began a series of meetings and calls with the University Police in which detectives repeatedly pressured him to allow them to fingerprint him, so that they could compare his prints to evidence from unsolved murders. They cited his publication of the horror fiction as the reason.

    Has anybody at the campus police department read Harry Crews?

    Update: The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley finds echoes of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, in which “a writer living in a police state … gets arrested and interrogated because he wrote stories about fictional murders that kind of resembled real-life murders.”

    Monday morning remainders

    • As Mary Cheney’s book appears, Letterman grills the Vice President’s daughter on her hypocrisy. (The segment ends with Letterman saying, “Well, if my phone line wasn’t tapped before….”)
    • Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina) was taught to despise mobile homes during her childhood. For the weekend’s LA Times she goes to Malibu “to see what it’s like when the prosperous take on the traditional refuge of the itinerant and the poor.”
    • Monica Ali (Brick Lane) has set her second novel, Alentejo Blue, in Portugal. In a negative review, Natasha Walter says “The only thing that holds the book together is its geographical unity.”
    • Daniel Mendelsohn calls Philip Roth’s latest novel “as imperfect as it is impassioned.”
    • Elizabeth Bishop “thought deeply about contingencies of literary reception and reputation in the late 1930s … and came to realise that to want to manage the fate of one’s work, an impulse native to her, was to court a ‘dangerous purity’ (a phrase she uses to describe Marianne Moore’s work in the 1940s).”
    • Muriel Spark’s son, Robin, reveals that their feud continued until the writer’s death. He did not attend her funeral.
    • Help a “lonely bookworm find a virtual community.”
    • “In a market dominated by the big chain stores, if a novel doesn’t sell a healthy number of copies in the first two weeks after its publication, its chances of gaining longer-term momentum are slim.”

    Interview with Rupert Thomson


    The dancer protagonist of Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation starts out for cigarettes on a sunny April day and winds up shackled to the floor of a cavernous white room. There three hooded women make him their sex slave, subjecting him to various ministrations and indignities before driving a screwdriver through his foreskin, looping a chain through the wound, tethering him to a wall, and forcing him to dance, naked, before a masked audience. At the end of part one, they abandon him to the rest of his life.

    This opening section is a gripping portrait of sexual coercion and its immediate psychological impact. It was also my introduction to Thomson. When I reached the end of the first hundred pages — when the women dropped our unnamed protagonist off somewhere in suburban Amsterdam, with a hood over his head, and told him to count to a hundred — I was stricken and amazed, and wholly engrossed in his plight. But I didn’t have high hopes for the remaining 150 pages. I’ve overloaded on transgressive fiction, so much of which gets by solely on the shock value of brutal or improbable fucking. And I didn’t expect Thomson to pull back from the graphic sex and reveal something altogether more true and disturbing: the way trauma can transform a victim into a monster.

    Thomson’s fiction excavates the fears and longings that churn in the deepest subconscious. In The Insult, a man is shot in the head and told he’s lost his eyesight. While recovering in an institution, he finds he can still see, but only at night. Alone with his secret — he gains release from the hospital only by pretending to accept his blindness — he holes up in a squalid hotel where he can sleep all day and embark on a new life under cover of darkness.

    Divided Kingdom, Thomson’s latest book, opens as a young boy is taken from his home in the middle of the night pursuant to a scheme to reorganize Britain in accordance with the four personality types, or humors, identified long ago by Aristotle. He’s assigned to a new, sanguine family and expected to be content there. (Longtime readers may remember how pissed off I was when I left my copy on a plane after reading up to the family reassignment.)

    “If you’re already a fan of Rupert Thomson’s novels,” Andrew O’Hehir observed last year, “all I have to tell you is that he has a new one. You’ll understand already that it won’t fall readily into any known literary genre, but that it’ll crackle along like a thriller … driven by sharp and luminous writing. You’ll also know that in the end there’ll be something mysterious about it, as if its exciting events and characters are just a sort of smokescreen for something deeper and scarier still.”

    I’m the kind of Thomson fan O’Hehir describes. Then there are people like the friend of mine who read The Insult on my recommendation, and was underwhelmed and annoyed by the structure. He picked up Divided Kingdom, which he loved, only because he didn’t realize it was written by the same person.

    Even Thomson’s most devout fans are more willing to enter some of his nightmare worlds than others. Take James Hynes, a recent convert who happens to be one of my favorite contemporary American authors. In “The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson,” he writes beautifully about the allure of Thomson’s fiction. Once he sets in on the relative merits of the individual novels, though, I’m all, “I’d love to debate that assessment over a couple pints of beer sometime.”

    Thomson and I started a relaxed and very slow email interview last fall. I didn’t manage to ask even half the questions I’d hoped to, but once he got to talking about his new (already completed) novel, I knew it was time to finish this thing up and post it.

    In 2001, you told an interviewer that when you start a new book:

    I have nightmares. Night after night. For a long time I didn’t understand why. Recently I came up with a theory. To write fiction of any power and authenticity you have to draw on the deepest, most secret parts of yourself. That’s where fiction comes from, but it’s also where dreams are made. Small wonder, then, if there’s a certain amount of cross-fertilisation between the two. I often think of Louise Bourgeois in this context. She once said, “I trust my unconscious. The unconscious is my friend. . . .” You might say that I want my fiction to have that relationship to reality. I want to be able to look at reality from a standpoint that feels unpredictable, surreal, and yet, at the same time, entirely cogent. I seem to be attracted to ideas that allow me to do this.

    How does this immersion — I’ve read that you work “in five-month stints of seven-day weeks” — in the darkest reaches of the unconscious affect the rest of your life? Do the nightmare worlds of your books bleed into everything else, so that you’re spending much of your life in a distressed, hyper-aware state? Or can you shake yourself out of that world without much trauma?

    As a writer you have to immerse yourself completely or you won’t produce anything that works, let alone anything that is powerful and alive. There are no half measures. Rainer Maria Rilke put it beautifully in a book called Letters on Cezanne: “It seems to me that the ‘ultimate intuitions and insights’ will only approach one who lives in his work and remains there, and whoever considers them from afar gains no power over them.” I think that says it all, especially the part about remaining there.

    If you live in your work, though, it’s often at the expense of your life — temporarily, at least. There just isn’t too much energy left at the end of the day. People who know you well can sense the change in you, the not-quite-there-ness; they can feel it, as you can feel the cold draught from a half-open door. There are dreams too — or nightmares — but that’s because the pathways to the sub-conscious are open. The people you’re writing about feel real, and real people feel ever so slightly ghostly. All I ever want to do when I’m in the middle of a draft is to go to sleep, wake up again, and carry on writing. It doesn’t make you a very easy person to live with. But in spite of all the difficulties, I feel happy — and, though it sounds odd, useful — because I’m doing what I most love doing.

    I don’t really get over-stressed unless I’m not working. I lose all sense of what I’m here for. I seem to have no purpose.

    The only time I get distressed — though panic-stricken would be a better way of putting it — is in the middle of a book. All of a sudden, I feel that I’ve taken on too much, that what I’m attempting is either over-ambitious or ludicrous. This phase usually lasts for three or four days. It used to worry me, but now I’ve come to recognise it as a crucial phase, or even as a sign. These days I would worry if didn’t feel it. It would mean I’d undertaken something that was too obvious or too easy. I suppose I want every book to be a challenge. To take me somewhere I’ve never been.
      Continue reading…