Chris Adrian on realism in fantastical fiction

Chris Adrian, a former classmate of mine, and someone I haven’t talked to since we left U.F., has a new book out.

I’ve posted before about Adrian, how he shamed the rest of us with his talent. His first novel, Gob’s Grief, set in the Civil War era, was a departure from the early stories I remember, and from a later story published in Zoetrope. It was, in a sense, fantastical, but it was far more somber than his other work and hasn’t stayed with me the same way. He talks about his second book, The Children’s Hospital, this week at McSweeney’s.

Q: The typical cast for a post-apocalyptic epic seems to be a handful of rugged survivalists, or maybe isolated mutants. But here you’ve created a small society — hundreds of patients and doctors and parents, even a tamale lady — and for the most part they’re forced to go forward with the lives they had before. So there’s a day-to-day realism within a fantastical frame. Was that a conscious balance? Were you ever tempted into Mad Max territory?

ADRIAN: My first writing teacher had a rule that the more fantastical your frame the more ordinary and real had to be the lives that were lived inside it. I felt to a certain extent — sometimes probably to a fault — that I had to proceed very quietly a lot of the time in the narrative, so as not to call attention to the essential battiness of the premise. I didn’t want either the readers or the characters to be always looking out the window, so to speak. But I was constantly tempted into Mad Max territory. Though it’s never described, I always pictured that the tamale lady gave herself Tina Turner Thunderdome hair at about the same time that everyone else abandons their old-world wardrobes. And there were rampaging zombie nurses who ate a medical student in the last part of the story, but somebody made me get rid of them.

I’m going to guess he’s talking about Powell here.


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