As you all know, because I’ve droned on about it ad nauseam, I don’t love modern fiction. I try. I read books recommended to me. Normally, I’m borderline about them or slightly disappointed. A few times I feel downright psychotic in my vitriol. Every once in a while, though, I find a gem. I mean, I find something right up there with Cather, Maugham or even Hemingway.
When I do find a modern writer who stops me in my tracks, makes me cry the ugly cry or even induces me to toss a book across the room because it’s so intense, I hang on tight.
So it is with Kent Haruf (now deceased), Cormac McCarthy and George Saunders.
These men and their books aren’t easy. Saunders, in particular, kind of goes for the emotional jugular, but he goes for it in a way that is so unexpected and in a way that is so gripping, that even against your better judgement, you keep going back for more and somehow (somehow) never see it coming.
Kent Haruf creates worlds and characters so true, it’s hard to not feel as though you might see them at the diner in town (even if you don’t live in the kind of town with a diner).
McCarthy is violent, and just when you think it’s too much and you can’t read it, he breaks your heart.
So, what do these men have to say for themselves…about their craft? About their lives? About society?
Here are a few interviews I’ve loved from these modern writers who somehow create work that endures in a world where 50 Shades of Grey sells out and main characters are sometimes, upon close inspection, made of cardboard.
I know. That was mean.
Here is an article about Cormac McCarthy from Vanity Fair. I especially like this line:
His is the unhurried manner of one who has never found reason to doubt his own worth or abilities.
Here, in The New Yorker, he talks about the unconscious, which I’m finding fascinating as I study it myself. And then, of course, is the David Kushner interview. There are parts that are hard to read, like when McCarthy explains his theories on how we (society) make a serial killer.
This WSJ article on Haruf talks about his own late-in-life love story. I didn’t have high hopes for Our Souls at Night when I read it. I didn’t think anything could match Plainsong or Eventide. I thought maybe Our Souls at Night was one last gasp from the publishing industry to capitalize on Haruf’s brilliance. I was wrong.
In this interview, which likens Haruf to McCarthy, Haruf says, “…somebody who's all good doesn't seem to me interesting.”
Here is an interview, which you can listen to, with Haruf. I was almost afraid to hear his voice, worried it would change something from me. But I loved it. I loved his comments about writing on a typewriter vs. a computer. He says that on a computer, you can write endlessly, and isn’t that the truth? And he writes blindly. I want to try this. Take off my glasses, shut my eyes.
And Haruf was in the Peace Corps! Ha.
Finally, I just read this (in The New York Times) from Saunders. It’s a time line of his professional life, in his own words. If you are creative and feel as if your career should happen overnight (or in five years), read this. It will inspire.
I love this Saunder’s quote:
So, for example, the person who wrote my darkest story is still alive in me, as is the person who wrote the most optimistic.
I love reading books I love, but I also love reading about the people who write them, about their lives, their process and their personal history. It’s inspiring to me because none of it was ever easy, quick, simple, linear or without its own drama and turmoil.
We feel so often in modern society and culture, that success is quick, that if you want it badly enough it will happen (in six months but maybe a year) and that if it’s not happening, you’ve got the wrong dream, the wrong plan or the wrong focus.
These men prove how untrue this is, and we have to appreciate their audacity to simply stick with it lest we have to go on reading books written by people without the tension these men bring to the game.
That’s it for me. It’s raining and has been raining for days. I woke at 5:15 to the sound of rain.
I will love tomorrow’s sunshine all the more.
Tell me all of your favorite authors if you get a chance, and have a lovely day with an extra slosh of heavy whipping cream wherever you can get it (coffee for me).