Author Archives

Sarah Moss on Brexit, Borders, Bog Bodies, and the ‘Foundation Myths of a Really Damaged Country’

A section of Hadrian's Wall. Associated Press / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Tobias Carroll  | Longreads | January 2019 | 16 minutes (4,245 words)

Silvie, the young woman at the heart of Sarah Moss’s new novel Ghost Wall, has embarked on a fascinating project: living with her family and several others in a style inspired by Iron Age Britain. It would be a fascinating foray into archaic ways of living, except that the academic conducting this research doesn’t seem entirely reliable in his methods, and Silvie’s father quickly reveals himself to be controlling and physically abusive. Soon enough, the oppressively patriarchal society from which she seeks to extricate herself has taken on another aspect, and the landscape abounds with sinister portents and ominous structures that seem designed to prevent escape and stifle dissent.

In Ghost Wall, Moss blends evocative and stark language with a disquieting narrative. In a different work, these might be hallmarks of a coming-of-age story. In Ghost Wall, the goal is more one of simple survival. Read more…

I Would Never Say That, But the Character, He Said It: An Interview with Catherine Lacey

McKeown / Stringer for the Hulton Archive, Getty

Tobias Carroll | Longreads | August 2018 | 16 minutes (4,305 words)

Since the 2014 release of her debut novel Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey has established herself as one of the finest chroniclers of alienation working in fiction today. Her follow-up, The Answers, took as its subject a young woman who is hired to be part of an experimental program to give a famed screen actor a kind of compound girlfriend. Both novels grapple with questions of restlessness and malaise, and turn familiar fictional ground — an American abroad in the former, a larger-than-life celebrity in the latter — into something strange and mysterious.

Lacey is also an acute observer of larger literary and cultural traditions: last year, in collaboration with artist Forsyth Harmon, she released The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence. In it, she chronicles the dizzying web of connections between artists of many disciplines over the course of decades — and in doing so unravels the mystique of the solitary genius.

Lacey’s latest book is her first collection of short stories. Certain American States demonstrates another aspect of her literary abilities. The stories found in here cover a wide stylistic range, from the surreal travelogue of “The Grand Claremont Hotel” to the meditation on loss and possessions found in “Please Take.” That stylistic range allows Lacey a way to explore her preferred themes of alienation and interconnectedness in a myriad of ways — making for an unpredictable set of narratives throughout the book. Read more…

The Tether Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Sergio De La Pava

Tobias Carroll | Longreads | May 2018 | 18 minutes (4,881 words)

Lost Empress addresses the injustice of mass incarceration, plays with the possibility of parallel universes, and uses arena football as a metaphor for how the revolution is unforeseeable. Welcome to the world — or should I say worlds — of Sergio De La Pava, whose fiction certainly doesn’t lack for a sense of scope.

His debut, A Naked Singularity, followed a young, incredibly successful public defender through a personal and professional collapse, weaving in a heist narrative and moments of absurdist comedy, moving from harrowing scenes of inequality to suspenseful setpieces and back again. Initially self-published before being reissued by the University of Chicago Press (which also released his second novel, Personae), A Naked Singluarity would go on to win the prestigious PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize — an award also won by Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated and Paul Harding’s Tinkers.

In De La Pava’s fiction, grand ideas and societal tragedies coexist with a brisk narrative voice and an irreverent worldview. Lost Empress alternates between two seemingly unconnected stories: Nina Gill, a genius football strategist, suddenly becomes the owner of an indoor football team in Paterson, New Jersey, during an unexpected pause in the NFL season; meanwhile, Nuno DeAngeles, imprisoned at Rikers Island, ponders his earlier crimes and romantic connections, and his plans for the future. Within this sprawling narrative, De La Pava tells the secret history of a Salvador Dalí painting, discusses Cambodian politics in the late 20th century, and muses about why the NFL’s labor market is uniquely exploitative of American athletes.

Improbably in our age of hyper-specialization, De La Pava, like the hero of A Naked Singularity, is a public defender in Manhattan, where he handles 70 to 80 cases at a time. He recently wrote an impassioned op-ed calling for reform of New York’s discovery laws. His interests are obviously wide-ranging, and our conversation touched on the cultural history of Paterson, what we hate about rich people, the multiverse, and more.


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