Throwing John Fowles

A long time ago, my sister threw John Fowles across the room.

MAGUS MOVIEOk wait, yes, she was a powerful little Italian – rest in peace, dear Sis – but I don’t mean that she actually  lifted up the man from Lyme Regis and tossed him like a sack of potatoes.  It was his book, The Collector, that took flight in my sister’s family room and smacked against the wall.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way about another Fowles’ novel, The Magus (which inspired the 1968 film with Candice Bergen, Anthony Quinn, Michael Caine, and Anna Karina), probably for the same reasons.

The ending.

When I look at the bestsellers lists of the New York Times and other outlets, I realize how far away is the world that celebrated and raved over Fowles’s books and made him wealthy enough to be a writer and only a writer.  Everything on the bestsellers lists today with a few exceptions — Colson Whitehead probably — smells of symmetry and neatly-resolved endings.

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Critical Reading: ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ on St. Patrick’s Day

St Patricks dayIt was a privilege and a pleasure to get to know novelist Thomas McGonigle while at the Times, and it’s been a privilege to keep knowing him ever since.

Recently, University of Notre Dame Press brought out his novel, St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin, which is also the recipient of the 2016 Notre Dame Review Book Prize.

“McGonigle’s novel,” the prize committee said, “is a brilliant portrait of the uneasy alliance between the Irish and Irish Americans, the result of the centuries-old diaspora and immigration, which left unsettled the mysteries of origins and legacy.”

McGonigle is a member of literature’s world community.  You discover that right away when you talk to him.  Whether you’re in actual conversation or reading his blog, ABC of Reading, you find that he’s preoccupied with far more important issues than who is on the current bestsellers lists.  Instead, he speaks freely and easily to you about Roberto Calasso, or Julian Rios, or Claude Simon, or some Bulgarian novelist whose name is difficult to pronounce as if they’re all neighbors living on the same street.

And, in sense, they all do live on the same street.  So what did I do on this year’s observance of the venerable Irish saint?

I prepped this interview below for you, my beloveds, which presents Tom’s perspective on his novel and the process behind it, not to mention his larger concerns about the current state and future of literature.

Enjoy.

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***What was the genesis of your St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin?  Where does it begin?

All of my books begin with the moment when I saw a blonde girl putting her coat and books into a locker on the second floor of Patchogue High School in my senior year.  I had been looking at a picture history of World War One and must have decided to write a story in which a soldier would think of the girl back home and this boy would die on November 6, 1918. I changed the girl’s last name with the addition of two letters.  The story was published in The Red & Black, the student newspaper.  I waited for Melinda to seek me out.  She did not.  I wrote a second story told this time from her viewpoint…  this was published, and again she did not seek me out. I could say that the writing disease had taken hold of me then.

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