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Groping for Vines: An Interview with Fiona Maazel

A man wakes up and doesn’t remember the night before. Then he sees photos that show him assaulting a woman. Add the fact that he’s a new father, his job involves experimental surgeries, and his own father has dementia—oh, and he can read minds—and you’ve got Fiona Maazel’s new novel, A Little More Human. Memory, autonomy, and conspiracy theories abound in this complicated, well-crafted book. Maazel has won the Bard Prize for Fiction and was a National Book Award Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree. She was recently awarded a Guggenheim.

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Jaime Herndon: One thing I loved about A Little More Human was the intersecting storylines, especially Dr. Snyder’s memory loss, juxtaposed with his son’s mindreading ability and blackout. How did you come up with the structure/form of the novel?

Fiona Maazel: Thematically, I knew I wanted to be writing about memory, and memory as a way of constructing identity, juxtaposed against how incredibly hard it is to establish an identity when we know so little of what transpires in our own inner lives. I wanted to get at all that, but there was no way to do it from one perspective. I needed a few characters to allow me to approach the topic from multiple angles. Continue reading

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GREAT ARTISTS STEAL: D’Arc by Robert Repino

My novel D’Arc is the third book in the War With No Name series, which tells of a global conflict between humans and sentient animals. Amid the chaos, a cat named Mort(e) searches for his lost love—a dog named Sheba. Along with its apocalyptic themes, the book discusses the failures of political systems, the power of superstition, and the tribal impulse that drives all species. Below are some of the books that helped to inspire and inform D’Arc, separated by theme.

THE END OF THE WORLD

The War With No Name series is firmly set within the postapocalyptic genre. I’m drawn to these kinds of stories not only because of the Mad Max movies I grew up with, but because of the sense of upheaval, the reset, that comes with them. With a clean slate, people have the opportunity to start anew or to recreate the world of the past. But try as they might, they cannot avoid repeating the same mistakes that unraveled the former world.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If you haven’t been browbeaten into reading this book yet, allow me to join in the bullying. Atwood’s novel captures the frustration and the stunned silence that would accompany a complete overhaul of society. The protagonist Offred has no choice but to adapt, and her ability to do so surprises her. This book was so influential for me that I used this line as the epigraph for the first book. “God is love, they once said, but we reversed that…” And really, that sums everything up. Continue reading

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HITTING SHELVES #45: The Australian by Emma Smith-Stevens

The Australian by Emma Smith-Stevens comes out today! It’s a hilarious debut novel about a smiling, suntanned, backpack-wearing Australian (you know the type) and his search for meaning. We asked the author one question.

Fiction Advocate: Emma! How are you celebrating the publication of The Australian?

Emma Smith-Stevens: On the publication date of my novel The Australian (today!), I’m doing a reading at Unnamable Books in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn at 7pm. Some really incredible writers—Rachel Khong, Aaron Thier, and Nick Flynn—will be reading as well. It’s open to the public and I invite you, too: the more the merrier! Bring friends! Evil twins! Friends with benefits! Lovers—secret or otherwise! Frienemies! Doppelgängers! Those with whom you have relationships that you would describe as “complicated!” Bring ‘em all! Continue reading

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HITTING SHELVES #42: Exes by Max Winter

Exes by Max Winter comes out today! It’s a heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-fragments, in which Clay Blackall compiles the stories of longtime residents of Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to understand his brother Eli’s death and the city that has defined and ruined them both.

Fiction Advocate: Max! How are you celebrating the publication of Exes?

Max Winter: I guess I already did? Because even though Exes’ official release date is April 11, Amazon shipped their copies two weeks early, which completely caught me off guard. (But I worked media retail in the pre-Internet Age, when these dates were inviolate. Except for the new Sinatra box when Liv Tyler or Richard Hell were asking.) It felt thrilling, of course—knowing the book was finally in readers’ hands—but because my author’s copies hadn’t even arrived yet, it also felt an awful lot like having blacked out at a wedding. “Ohmygod, you don’t remember? You were so funny and/or mean!”

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The Pixelated Novel in Bifurcation Nation

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George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, reads like confetti, like fireworks, like a snowstorm. This novel, like an image made of pixels, is a collage of intricate individual parts that, taken together, create the dazzling swirl and pulse of tenuous coherence.

Allow me to literalize: it is a story told in snatches by dozens of different narrators, most of whom are dead and dwelling in the “bardo” (a Buddhist term for the transitional state between life and death) of a crypt in Georgetown. As in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the novel’s clearest intertext, souls are punished according to their sins—one sexually frustrated man sports a massively engorged member because he was never able to consummate his marriage. Death, heaven, and intermediate states have long been a fascination for Saunders, explored in stories like “Escape From Spiderhead,” “Sea Oak,” and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.” In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders looses his ghosts on the graveyard to shuffle through their danse macabre. Continue reading

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The Salty Dawg

Three nights after I left the Arctic Storm, I heard my name as I passed the Salty Dawg. I looked back. A small, thin man hurried after me. His walk had something hopeful, almost jaunty, in it, but his face looked tired under its graying stubble.

“Buy you a drink and we’ll talk about a job,” he called. The skipper of the Arctic Storm came out behind him, shouting, “Damn you, Jay, you’re stealing my deckhand. You’re gonna work for me, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

I let myself be herded inside, strangely elated at the thought of fishing again.

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