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Interview with the Author

With great reluctance, the author consented to being interviewed by Ian McDougal, one of the novel's main characters:

MCDOUGAL. Why reluctance?
POLSON. Because I think that in most cases the author is in the worst possible position to comment on his own writing. A writer can't always determine the purpose behind what's been written. It's like looking into a mirror. No one has an objective opinion of what he sees in his reflection.
MCDOUGAL. Why did you choose me to interview you? And how can you call this a legitimate interview?
POLSON. I can't. You're a figment of an overactive imagination, and this interview is pure fiction. As for the first question, I had very mixed feelings about choosing you as an interviewer, and all for exactly the same reason: I knew that you wouldn't show me any mercy. You exist to deflate everything and everyone around you. You're a gadfly, a Loki. That's why I created you.
MCDOUGAL. Should I feel flattered? Probably not. Anyway, let's start the interview. The book is dedicated to R. C. R. Who's that?
POLSON. I'll leave that mostly unanswered. R. C. R. is an old friend.
MCDOUGAL. What drove you to get the novel published after so many years?
POLSON. I thought that it was certainly as good as anything out there, and I wanted it to reach a larger readership.
MCDOUGAL. That sounds egotistical.
POLSON. So what isn't? Life is all about dissemination: dissemination of ideas, dissemination of genetic material. The planes are completely congruent.
MCDOUGAL. You know, you sound a lot like Pendoro when you say that. Is he your alter ego? He spouts the same bullshit.
POLSON. Perhaps, but we'll come back to that, and in any case, I happen to know that you like Pendoro.
MCDOUGAL. No comment. Let's start with some simple questions. How do you explain the structure of the book?
POLSON. The four main sections represent the four seasons. The first section, where we first meet the main characters, is meant to be fragmented and kaleidoscopic. The second section is set in motion by Kirk's disillusionment, which leads to his suicide. This part of the book is intended to be anti-Aristotelian in that I suspend space and time and allow major and minor characters to talk past each other while failing to notice that a young man is in complete despair and is preparing to kill himself. All of the pieces begin to fall together in the third section, your monologue. You're in a state of shock and try to deny how much Kirk's suicide has affected you. You feel terrible and won't admit that to yourself.
MCDOUGAL. I got sick of his sanctimonious bullshit.
POLSON. Maybe, but in any case, you miss Kirk and feel at least partly responsible for his death.
MCDOUGAL. OK, you're right, but go on.
POLSON. In the last section Pendoro gets his own turn, and all of the pieces finally fall together on the last page. He's really the only character in the book who develops any sense of humility and compassion. Also, the last section contains a loving description of the Midwest countryside, and in fact it's only by leaving the town and seeking out the countryside that Pendoro can experience a revelation.
MCDOUGAL. That's a bit trite, isn't it? Faulkner uses it in "The Bear".
POLSON. Fair enough, but how much reflection can take place in an urban setting? The noise alone is enough to keep us constantly distracted.
MCDOUGAL. Speaking of Faulkner, I wanted to ask you about influential authors. Name a few.
POLSON. Well, Faulkner is certainly one of them, but his influence isn't as blatant as it is in some of my earlier writing. Since I wrote the book in my early twenties, I can only mention James Joyce as the only other influence, and the general wordplay and the more fantastic elements, especially the bizarre game show, ultimately derive from Ulysses. I passed through Faulkner and Joyce phases in my late teens, and any influence was inevitable.
MCDOUGAL. What about Marcus Aurelius?
POLSON. That was a later influence, but in any case, the Stoics and the Epicureans had it right: Everything around us is subject to dissolution, and each of us has to find and accept his lot in life if he has any hope of finding any contentment at all.
MCDOUGAL. To what extent does the narrative represent your own college experiences?
POLSON. Very little, actually. Flanders College is entirely different from Grinnell College, except perhaps for the physical layout of the campus. I certainly had that in mind when I wrote the book.
MCDOUGAL. Do the characters resemble actual people you know?
POLSON. Not really. Pendoro isn't an alter ego, but he's certainly a mouthpiece. Ruth Hager is a type like Dean Flaxton and for that reason is probably the least accessible of all the characters. You're probably a crude conglomeration of all of the rowdies that I knew in college, including me. I created you because of your irreverent attitude, and you're certainly one of my favorites. Clifton is almost entirely testosterone-driven. Susie Quent is disillusioned and disoriented. With the exception of Ruth, however, each character has some sort of redeeming quality which humanizes him or her. There's the potential for compassion in all of you, but Pendoro is the only one who realizes that.
MCDOUGAL. So the book is moralistic?
POLSON. Ultimately, yes.
MCDOUGAL. Did you invent significant names for the characters?
POLSON. Yes, but I'll let the reader figure them out. Some are transparent, for example, Flanders for Defoe's Moll Flanders.
MCDOUGAL. Some readers have pointed out that you don't paint a very flattering picture of women. Are you some sort of misogynist?
POLSON. The picture of men is equally unflattering, Ian. You know that already. I suppose that that makes me a misanthrope, but I don't really believe that. In the end, I meant to criticize my generation for its misplaced values, but that doesn't mean that my urge to write the book didn't stem from a very positive source.
MCDOUGAL. Parts of the book are repulsive.
POLSON. The sublime must be balanced by the base. Everything exists on a spectrum.
MCDOUGAL. How about your use of language? It gets a bit thick at times, doesn't it?
POLSON. Yes, but I set out wanting to use the full palette. In the end, the book is an ode to the English language and to different English writing styles.
MCDOUGAL. Why include Latin?
POLSON. I wanted to give the setting a more traditional tinge, and a lot of the characters are prep-school graduates. I'm sure that there was also an influence from Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
MCDOUGAL. Do you consider yourself a poet?
POLSON. I'm a sometime poet. Some of the poetry in the book works, some doesn't, but that was intentional. The poems are meant to chart Pendoro's development as a human being. I'm not even sure if Pendoro himself is a poet.
MCDOUGAL. Pendoro burns his poems. Have you destroyed a lot of your own writing?
POLSON. Yes, but I didn't burn it. That's rather dramatic, don't you think?
MCDOUGAL. What about religion? Organized religion doesn't come out very well in the book.
POLSON. I think that most organized religions have been corrupted not by the founders, but by those who have later turned them into hierarchies. Christ would be horrified by a modern church, and the Buddha by a stupa. Anyone who pretends to hold the Answer Book is a charlatan, and anyone who believes him is a dupe. Insight derives from experience combined with awareness. It's real simple.
MCDOUGAL. How about racism? You allow Clifton to get beaten up by a bunch of black kids.
POLSON. That's not so much about racism as it is about culture clashes. Clifton and his friends are like foreign bodies in a completely unfamiliar organism, and they don't have the presence of mind to realize that. That little chapter is all about arrogance.
MCDOUGAL. I'm running out of questions, so I'll ask you this: Why should people read your novel?
POLSON. It contains a beautiful message, I think. This will sound narcissistic, I know, but I always get choked up when I read the last chapter. It's not necessarily an easy read, but it's worth it. Again, I'd put it up against anything out there on the market now.
MCDOUGAL. What about future writing projects?
POLSON. I'm working on a translation of two short collections of short pieces by Franz Kafka (link), and after that I have two novels in mind: Katabasis, a historical novel based on the life of Xenophon, and Brothers, a novel dealing with the lives of three brothers as described by their children, their wives, their friends, and themselves. I also hope to get my M.Phil. thesis published by a publisher in Italy. It's a commentary on Xenophon's Apology which will serve at least partly as a basis for the novel mentioned above.
MCDOUGAL. That will all take many, many years. Will you live that long?
POLSON. Any of us could die tomorrow, Ian, and some of us have never really existed.
MCDOUGAL. Don't rub it in.

For an additional interview, please click here.