“If you don’t push against the mirror, how do you know you’re standing in front of it?” asks author Martin Pousson. His PEN award-winning novel Black Sheep Boy, also an L.A. TimesPick of the Week, inspired Susan Larson (NPR The Reading Life) to say: “An unforgettable novel-in-stories about growing up gay in French Acadiana, so vivid and almost fairy tale-like, drawing on folklore from the region, and yet so brutally realistic. Brilliant. I loved this book.” I loved it too, for Pousson’s poetic prose, among other reasons. I’ve been able to ask Martin Pousson a few questions about the novel. His answers reflect his literary acuity.
I’m not a horse fancier but after reading Alyson Hagy’s Boleto I look curiously when I glimpse a horse. The novel’s young cowboy protagonist drew me to it (I am a fancier of young cowboys). The filly he’s training for polo is the reader’s window into Will Testerman’s soul. I fell in love with the book and its Everyman protagonist, and I’m delighted Alyson Hagy let me ask a few questions about it.
QUESTION: Did you intend for protagonist Will Testerman, the twenty-three year old Wyoming horse trainer, to be an exemplary human being or did he only turn out that way?
Paula Fox died on March first, although I didn’t know it. I happened to be reading Desperate Characters at the time. I didn’t know who the author was or why I was reading Desperate Characters. My best guess was that a Goodreads friend had recommended the book and I’d downloaded it, with so many others, to my Kindle. Because Kindle doesn’t give copyright or original publication dates for books – an unforgivable sin, to my mind – I didn’t even know whether Desperate Characters was an older book or a recent one set in the sixties. What I did know, or realized as I got into the book, was the fact that I was reading not just good but great fiction.
I often read two or three novels at once. Reading Percy’s The Moviegoer and Albo’s Hornito, I read a passage and thought I’d picked up one book rather than the other. Both present a young man chasing sex and the meaning of life while also interacting with his elders and friends and working in an office and revisiting his childhood. When I finished both books, I noticed that many passages I’d marked in each could fit either, to some extent. Which left me struck by the similarity of the quest of the protagonists, although really quite different men.
Can you tell which of the quotes below belong together? The answers are at the bottom of this post, as is a little more information about the protagonists.
“…Her face screwed up into a scribble.” “I feel like I pollute when I show too much mood, so I smile, even when I ache inside.” “Each time I meet him I pretend I haven’t met him, because he doesn’t remember meeting me because we are being casual, and casual means you are waterproof and no one face soaks into you”: all in the poetic prose of the novel Hornito, My Lie Life, my introduction to Mike Albo and why I fell in love with him as a writer. An M.A. from Columbia, Albo offers two novels, two novellas, three plays, several solo stage performances, screen performances, along with contributions to, among others, the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, GQ, and The Village Voice.
READING MY WAY THROUGH MURIEL SPARK On Goodreads I posted the question, “Who writes like Barbara Pym, one of my favorite authors?” A friend replied that I should try Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington. There began my reading of Spark, an author who had escaped me, though she was twice short-listed for the Booker Prize and in 2008 included by The Times as among Britain’s top 50 writers since 1945.
6/20/16 A TASTE OF NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST AND NYT BESTSELLER BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK BY BEN FOUNTAIN
“His [2½ -year-old] body was all spring and torque, a bundle of fast-twitched muscles that exuded faint floral whiffs of ripe pear. So much perfection in such a compact little person—Billy had to tackle him from time to time, wrestle him squealing to the ground just to get that little rascal in his hands…”
19-year-old American soldier Billy Lynn, stateside from Iraq on a two-week promotional tour because his company—Bravo Squad—made the news for its heroism, is essentially prostituted for patriotism on Thanksgiving Day as part of the halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys football game. Tomorrow, Bravo will be re-deployed to Iraq.
4/20/16 INTERVIEW WITH LOU ARONICA, AUTHOR OF THE FOREVER YEAR
In The Forever Year, Jesse, a young man, is the last child in his family, born when his father was late middle-aged. Growing up, Jesse felt that his father and older siblings lived in a world apart from him and that he didn’t know his dad as his siblings did. When his father is no longer able to live alone, Jesse surprises his siblings by arranging for Dad to live with him. During the time the two men spend together, Jesse hopes they’ll connect. What he doesn’t expect is to learn that the love of his father’s life was not Jesse’s and his siblings’ mother. Yet their mother was the only woman their dad married, a marriage that lasted most of his lifetime and lasted until their mother’s death—not an unhappy marriage.
2/29/16 TAWNYSHA GREENE, AUTHOR OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, WILL BE OUR MARCH 1 GUEST BLOGGER.
Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she served as the fiction editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers. Her work has appeared in PANK, Bellingham Review, and Weave Magazine. Her first novel, A House Made of Stars, was released from Burlesque Press in 2015 and was reviewed here on Feb. 20. Cleaver Magazine described A House Made of Stars as “stunning.”
2/20/16 REVIEW OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, A NOVEL BY TAWNYSHA GREENE The more fascinating because of the unique narrator—a man’s 10-year-old deaf daughter—is this story of abuse committed by a manic-depressive, unemployed (and probably unemployable) father, himself the child victim of abuse by a deaf mother. The abuse he commits is allowed to continue by his helpless, complicit wife, the mother of their children and a psychological victim of fundamentalist Christianity’s tenet that wives should be submissive to their husbands. The wife’s own mother wants her daughter to bring the children and live in safety and
economic stability with her.
11/20/15 STAY-AT-HOME DADS: BRAFF’S THE DADDY DIARIES AND PERROTTA’S LITTLE CHILDREN I’ve bought three books because of tweets. Joshua Braff’s The Daddy Diaries was one. I expected a stay-at-home dad with an infant or toddlers, in the vein of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. But the children in Joshua Braff’s novel aren’t little. The protagonist’s daughter is 10, his son 13.
10/20/15 NOVEL ENDINGS I don’t think this can be a spoiler because I can’t remember the name of the book or the author. It’s set in small-town Minnesota in the fall, and the protagonist teaches school. I liked it and sent it home with a friend who came for the weekend. He taught high school in New York City. The teaching year had just begun, and he was in his usual back-to-school funk. I thought he’d enjoy reading about a fellow high school teacher in a book set at the beginning of the academic year. “Thanks a lot,” he said sarcastically in our next phone conversation.
9/20/15 REVIEW OF JOYCE RENWICK’S IN PRAISE OF WHAT PERSISTS “I kept finding the goat wandering in the dining room, or standing on the front room fireplace mantel just like she was wild on some mountainside… Pie Face was just an ordinary American mongrel milk goat, mostly black with white wedges under her eyes that gave her the name…[She] weighed about a hundred pounds and would chew or lick anything in sight that might contain minerals. She bit me every time I milked her so I’d gotten to expect it.”—from “The Goat” in the posthumous collection In Praise of What Persists.
WE CELEBRATE LATE LAST NIGHT BOOKS’ 2-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WITH A REVIEW OF THE PAST YEAR’S GUEST BLOGGERS.
FOR LOVE AND MAGIC.
There was a time when I determined, with absolute certainty, that I would never seek publication for my novel, The Listeners.
It wasn’t always that way. I was still in eighth grade when it clicked with me that writing is something one can do for a living, and from that moment on it was more than anything else what I wanted to do. (Continue reading)
Author of the recently published serial novel A Cappella Drug Lord – sometimes described as a cross between “Glee” and “Breaking Bad” – as well as the non-fiction book, The International Student’s Guide to American Colleges.
8/20/15 INTERVIEW WITH KATIE GILMARTIN, AUTHOR OF BLACKMAIL, MY LOVE In my review last month of the 2015 Lambda Award-winning mystery Blackmail, My Love, I said that as I read Gilmartin’s account of gay life under 1950s police and societal brutality, I realized she was also in effect writing about what it’s like to be a member of the wrong party under a totalitarian government, where people are persecuted for being who they are, for thinking what they think, and for wanting to meet and interact with other like-minded people. Today I have a chance to ask author Gilmartin what inspired her writing.
7/20/15 REVIEW OF KATIE GILMARTIN’S BLACKMAIL, MY LOVE
Yet the San Francisco we know today—the city so embracing of gay people—is not the San Francisco that existed in the 1950s when Blackmail, My Love takes place. The book resonated for me because I remember the fear I felt when, as a teenager in the early ’60s, I realized I might be homosexual and that, as I became an adult and remained wifeless, everyone else would suspect the truth.
6/20/15 Re-reading Anne Tyler: “She took the bowl of peas and brought it down on his head. It didn’t break, but peas flew everywhere.” Meet Pearl, having supper with her little girl Jenny and her two teenage sons in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: “Jenny’s face was streaming with tears, but she wasn’t making a sound and Pearl seemed unaware of her.
5/20/15 INTERVIEW OF JENNIFER YACOVISSI, AUTHOR OF THE NEW HISTORICAL NOVEL UP THE HILL TO HOME
A month ago here I reviewed Up the Hill to Home, a pleasantly leisurely read scattered with gems of insight and historical interest that bring to life a Washington, DC that you don’t see in the news. Today I’m pleased to interview author Jennifer Yacovissi.
Question: Years ago I used the wonderful Washington Star archives at the Martin Luther King Public Library for some research on DC history. Did your research for Up the Hill to Home take you to the Star archives or to the Library of Congress or to other places of interest?