I tell my students that whenever they are asked a really smart question they must smile at the interviewer and respond with a resounding Yes, perhaps complimenting the interviewer on catching that. So: Yes. But what else do we have to shore against the ruins? Art, religion, philosophy, novels – aren’t they all stories of a kind?
If Lew Griffin remains true to the genre’s promise of chaos returned to order, and if he does so out of superior veracity to himself and the memory of those he has lost, are you suggesting that just because we have stopped believing in something we were once promised, it doesn’t mean the promise was a lie?
The promises are mostly those we make to ourselves, aren’t they? And that may be largely what the six novels – with their insistence upon literature and the various manners in which we cobble together our lives from magpied fragments – are ‘about’.
Do you really believe that our lives are an effort to wring order from chaos – or that art is? As artists, we’re compulsive pattern makers, nothing more. And we’re the same in our lives, forever adopting, discarding, and revising patterns – beliefs, ceremonies, communities – that make things seem more cohesive, less messy. Knowing these are lies, we choose to believe them. Or perhaps it’s just that I read Camus at too early an age.
Why does your Griffin Cycle revolve around the power of memory?
“Memory, more poet than reporter.” I can’t remember now who I stole that from, but I’m certain the originator would be pleased with me for putting the notion to good use – through six (albeit shortish) novels.
We are here in the present, but we do not live in it; we are forever moving towards, and forever moving away; or, as Gertrude Stein put it, our participation in the present is always diluted by anticipation (the future) and memory (the past). As writer and as musician I am most interested in borderlands – where the world, its objects and its certainties, blur. That borderland where existence, memory and anticipation co-exist is one of those places.
What differences do you see between American and European literature, today?
American literature, it seems to me, is all about struggles between the individual and society. (Distinctly different from European novels dealing with man or woman finding his/her place in society?) I’ve spoken and written at length on this: We’ve a frontier mentality we can’t shed, yet have no frontier to accommodate it, only cities, inner cities, shopping malls, highways, and suburbs.
If humanity is constituted in our inconsistency, contradictions, and conflicting desires, are Plot and Theme the enemies of Character?
Enemies? Probably not, but they’re not on the same team when it comes to trying to evoke as fully as possible a life and the world in which that life takes place. What I call the forty-page syndrome, where you’re reading along, really getting into a novel, then the plot kicks in hard and all the coolest stuff – the textures, the messiness, the digressions – starts falling away. One doesn’t have to champion the plotless and wandering in order to decry the privileging of “story” (patterns imposed from without) over substance (eliciting patterns from within the narrative and characters themselves).
By recycling story patterns you show that memory is often loyal to models we accept simply because they have gained the validity of repeated experience. You also show that it ought to be questioned when Lew reminds the reader that his best efforts at reconstructing events should not be accepted as reliable evidence. Should we find pleasure in these cycles, as we do in Baroque and Blues music, where we find pleasure in the pattern of repetition with variation?
Wow. I mean, Yes.
Pattern-making, as I suggest above, is what it’s all about – the snake’s eyes. A musician plays a phrase off the 9th chord, then echoes it, contrasts it, turns it inside out; one dancer moves to the right, the other balances with a move to the left. Anticipation, surprise. The patterns seem necessary, to hold things – along with our apprehension and comprehension of them – together. But the patterns are temporizing, mutable. Once they become fixed in life, vitality is gone; and in art, creativity. A friend, who plays with African musicians, was told by them to “Put some confusion in it!” Absolutely.
Why do you write crime fiction?
Crime writing, as I write it, is the nearest I can come to gathering up the world I see around me in all its complexity, contradiction, beauty, terror, grace, and violence.
Does your work draw its power from the confrontation with mystery, miracle, and authority?
Don’t our lives draw their power from precisely that?
Do you mind explaining the literary effect of your writing by explaining the metaphor ‘grass, an assassin of polish’?
It’s stolen (like all my thoughts) from someone else, in this case Lawrence Durrell, a poem titled “Style.” Seeking a metaphor, he rummages through various grand notions: wind rolling in the trees and so on, finally settling for “grass, an assassin of polish.” You pick up an insignificant blade, toss it back down – and only then discover that it has cut you, “the thread of blood from the unfelt stroke.”
Subtlety. Subterfuge. The unexpected.
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