Susan Choi readily admits her first two books were a struggle to write, but her latest novel "A Person of Interest" (Viking, 368 pages, $25.95) was almost effortless.
When Gregory Maguire was writing ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,’ back in the early 1990’s, he often daydreamed about how successful the book was going to be.
Marie Howe’s poems are like the secrets your best friend told you, like words that listen back, like reassurances:
...This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
Always attuned to how the ordinary details of life are underscored by an imperative toward reflection and gratitude, in the words of Stanley Kunitz, Howe is “a religious poet, that rarity among writers of her generation.”
Howe’s first book, The Good Thief (1988) is a gathering of admissions; her poems reveal the innermost perceptions of their speakers always imbued with her graceful understanding of human nature. Given its title, The Good Thief immediately cues its readers to Howe’s ethical and spiritual concerns that dominate her body of work. Like the good thief Dimas in the Gospel of Luke, her poems in this collection beg the following sly questions: what are they taking from us, and what are we being protected from? Howe’s poems respond by interrogating our protective mechanisms—like secrets, denials, and loneliness—and prying open our understanding of inner life. Indeed, Howe’s retellings of Biblical stories and motifs including Genesis, Exodus, and angels serve to underscore her general interest in religion. But more specifically, the book keenly reflects on the nature of existence.
Many of the poems in The Good Thief plunge into the myriad aspects of loss including growing up, forgetting, and forgiveness. Aptly dedicated to her family, Howe often juxtaposes family life and childhood reminiscences with the universe of the spirit. Told in first person, the poem “What the Angels Left,” for example, offers a surreal portrait of its speaker’s landscape. Here, the metaphysical realm literally intervenes with its speaker, a person who is constantly finding scissors, and having to figure out what to do with them. This sort of hyperbolic, absurdist tone is less common in Howe’s poems than the eerie discomfort she provides here. Often, her poems bring to light moments of trauma and change for their speakers, but ultimately seek out modes of healing. On The Good Thief Margaret Atwood notes, “Reading it you feel interest always, delight often, and occasionally that cool wind at the back of the neck that makes you think there's one more person in the room than there actually is.”
Her second book, What the Living Do (1998) is divided into four sections, which offer a chronology of loss. These poems continue to explore the loss of innocence in childhood as her first book did, but are also deeply elegiac, marked by the deaths of her friends, mentors, and brother, John. What the Living Do celebrates legacy and survival after loss, while it also acknowledges grief and regret. As with The Good Thief the father figure is a recurring theme in the poems, often savage and an object of the speaker’s sympathy. Howe’s poems grappling with John’s death from AIDS are the tenderest part of this collection. In “The Cold Outside,” she writes of John's perspective: “Soon I will die, he said, and then/what everyone has been so afraid of for so long will have finally happened./And then everyone can rest.” Certainly, Howe’s book in part memorializes her brother, but there is a restlessness in the way her poems circle back to thinking about his death. A restlessness that ultimately keeps grief and longing present. Complementing this poetic work, Howe co-edited a volume of essays with Michael Klein called In the Company of My Solitude, a book detailing the experiences of AIDS patients.
Her newest book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008), continues in her stylized lyric mode that weds together the plainness of everyday life—with startling observations: the violence between couples, the death of a mother, and students discussing the place of the United States on the world stage. Shifting from her approach to religion in her first book, and exploration of mortality in her second, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time primarily looks at how life experience is shaped by gender. Motherhood is perhaps one of the most vibrant themes in the collection, coinciding with Howe's recent personal experience as a mother of an adopted girl. Engaging with female perspectives, Howe's work presses us to consider gender inequality, sexism, and violence against women. Tom Sleigh writes, “Marie Howe has found a way to write American speech that is as lucid, entertaining, and savage as F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her language is always deeply rooted in the social world, and it never turns away from the most difficult moral problems.”
Howe was born in 1950. She enrolled in her first poetry workshop in 1980. She received her MFA from Columbia where she studied under Stanley Kunitz. She currently teaches creative writing, and has taught in various writing programs at institutions including New York University, Columbia, and Sarah Lawrence. The Good Thief was selected by Kunitz as the winner of the Lavan Younger Poets Prize, the National Poetry Series. What the Living Do was selected by Publisher's Weekly as one of the top 5 books of the year. She has won NEA, Guggenheim, and Bunting Institute fellowships. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and most recently in the New Yorker (January 2008).
Campbell McGrath’s poems are marked with concision and seeing: they at once render the familiar vivid through his electric details, intimate awareness of space, and astute observations. Known best for his prose poems, McGrath’s work nevertheless always carries the concision of lyricism—particularly through his ability to startle readers with paradoxical couplings, tumbling wit, and contemplative turns.
Rooted in observation of contemporary America, McGrath often turns our attention to the geographical variety and beauty of the natural world while criticizing the homogenization and violence of culture. Reviewer Joel Brouwer summarizes McGrath's body of work by noting his poems “are set in locales from sea to shining sea and make remarkable use of geographical places as mirrors (by looking deeply at a place, the poet discovers new territory inside himself) but also as stages, even soapboxes, from which [he] delivers his barbed and witty commentary on contemporary culture.” McGrath's seven full-length volumes of poetry include Capitalism (1990), American Noise (1994), Spring Comes to Chicago (1996), Road Atlas (1999), Florida Poems (2002), Pax Atomica (2004), and Seven Notebooks (2008). He also wrote a chapbook, a forerunner to Florida Poems, entitled Mangrovia that was published by Short Line Editions (1999).
His first book Capitalism weaves together pop culture references ranging from Ansel Adams to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Attuned to words, McGrath includes a range of oral and textual sources in this book including lyrics by Woody Guthrie, lines of poetry by Carl Sandburg, and a meditation on William Carlos Williams. Drawn largely from his MFA manuscript, McGrath comments, “It’s very much about the concerns of a 25-year-old guy in America, doing his thing. It’s a matter of really writing about what you care about and know about, and that changes as your life changes.” This autobiographical element is maintained throughout his works, following into Spring Comes to Chicago—a book McGrath bases on his experience of the city, one that he has returned to many times. “The Bob Hope Poem,” a long and ambitious piece that dominates the collection, received critical acclaim and marked McGrath as a poet to really pay attention to.
American Noise, McGrath’s third book, also examines culture—but here more so than other volumes, his attention is turned toward icons like Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kerouac. William Matthews writes “Sly, passionate, funny and smart, and not in alternation but all at once, Campbell McGrath’s poems are genuine, accurate, American, eccentric.” McGrath’s subsequent book Road Atlas foreshadows his style in Seven Notebooks by drawing from the conventions of travel writing. McGrath makes the claim that the book is less about style than its subject matter: “Road Atlas is about travel beyond America, and fatherhood, and place, and even more than that it’s about the form of the prose poem.” David Biespiel from Hungry Mind Review applauds the book, noting “From Brazil to Manitoba, Las Vegas to Miami Beach...McGrath charts a poetics of place and everyday experience. Road Atlas is personal, provocative and accessible—the finest work yet from “the most Swiftian poet of his generation.”
His next book Florida Poems was composed between 1993 and 2000. While two long poems overshadow this work, the collection is varied. In McGrath's words, it's about “realizing that the fountain of youth is Florida's identifying myth. And that there is a fountain of youth, and in Florida it's the very youthfulness and newness of the culture. Human culture is potentially the fountain of youth.” Shifting his focus from landscape to time, Pax Atomica is an homage to 1962, the year of his birth. Reviewer Mike Chase reflects, “For a writer whose poems sometimes read like long, confident, inexhaustible guitar-solos and riffs on American culture, these anxieties are surprisingly candid and even touching.”
His latest work, Seven Notebooks, chronicles the consciousness of a year in the life of the speaker—capturing diverse moments in his life through a serial, diary-like form. The documentary-styled writing records a broad range of experiences in different cities (such as Miami and Chicago, as in earlier books): a dialogue in a writing workshop, landscape portraits, and literary meditations. Over the course of Seven Notebooks the reader can trace evolutions in the speaker's perspective. The poems are often self-reflective, and sensual in their details, and move between formal modes (like tercets) to the elastic, muscular prose poetry McGrath excels in creating. Divided into seven 'notebook' sections, each one considers the work of a canonical poet, such as Walt Whitman. Outside magazine calls him “an acrobatic, exuberant poet, part Walt Whitman, part Tom Waits...a writer who could help save poetry from academia and get the rest of us reading it again.”Campbell McGrath was born in Chicago in 1962. He grew up in Washington DC, received his MFA from Columbia in 1988, and now resides in Miami where he teaches creative writing at Florida International University. His poems have been anthologized in many places including New Voices: 1984-1988 (The Academy of American Poets, 1989) edited by Donald Hall, Poets of the New Century (David R. Goodine, 2001) edited by Roger Weingarten and Richard Higgerson, and No Boundaries (Tupelo Press, 2003), a collection of prose poems by twenty-four American poets edited by Ray Gonzalez. A collection of his prose poems, Heart of Anthracite, was published in 2005 by Stride. His work has also appeared in places such as the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Antaeus, and Ploughshares. His distinctions include the Kingsley Tufts Prize (1997), the Cohen Prize (1997), a Witte-Bynner fellowship (1998), a Guggenheim fellowship (1998), and a McArthur Genius Grant (1999).
When Russell Banks began working on his fifteenth novel “The Reserve” (289 pages, $24.95, Harper Collins), he set out to explore the time period of the 1930’s and he also wanted to write a novel about class struggles.
Horacio Castellanos Moya is a Salvadoran author widely considered to be one of Central America's greatest contemporary fiction writers. He's been living in exile since 1997 when the publication of his novel "El Asco: Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador" ("Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador") earned him anonymous death threats.
Douglas Glover: Welcome to The Book Show. I am your host, Douglas Glover, of the New York State Writers Institute, which is located at the University at Albany as part of the State University of New York system. My guest today is novelist Nicholas Delbanco, speaking to me from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nicholas Delbanco was born in England, the son of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. He came to the United States when he was six in 1948. He lived happily and uneventfully until he went to Harvard, where he became a wunderkinder, an overnight sensation, publishing his first novel, The Martlet’s Tale, when he was only twenty-four. For all intents and purposes he wrote a novel a year for the next seven years, started the creative writing program at Bennington College, and won the gamut of available prizes and awards, the Woodrow Wilson, Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts. His most notable books of this period include the three novels, the critically acclaimed The Sherbrookes Trilogy, the story of an old New England family, once wealthy, now in gothic decline. In the mid 1980s, Delbanco began to slow down a bit, a relief let me tell you, for some of us more pedestrian writers. He wrote two non-fiction books, The Beaux Arts Trio and Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France, and two story collections, notably his most recent work of fiction, The Writers Trade and Other Stories, published in 1990. He also finally left Bennington to direct the creative writing program at the University of Michigan. Delbanco as a man is suave, polished, and a bit of a dandy, if I may be so bold. I guess that means simply that he dresses better than I do. Erudite and gracious, he writes with an anxious élan. Staccato rhythms, a lucidness in alliteration and an amazing accumulation of dense, precise detail, all combine to give his writing a modernist edge, a beauty which draws attention to itself, a vivid complexity and intelligence. But Delbanco is not just surface pizazz and pyrotechnics. He writes great character and knows that character is story. He has almost a Dickensian imagination for these fundamental narrative structures. And this is nowhere more evident than in his new novel, his first in I guess, fifteen years, In the Name of Mercy, just published this month by Warner Books. In the Name of Mercy is a dazzling medical thriller, a detective novel without a detective, a sad and provocative book written under the sign of Dr. Death himself, Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan pathologist who only a month ago, assisted in his twenty-fifth suicide. In The Name of Mercy is about “mercy” killing, but “mercy” killing at this very moment when medical science has provided us with the means to prolong the lives of the elderly and the grievously ill, at the same time as fiscal and budgetary pressures are forcing doctors, hospitals and governments to withhold that technology. It’s one thing to say, as doctors once did, “We’ll do everything we can to save a patient,” but technology has given us the power to save patients who may not want to be saved and money considerations are forcing decisions about who should be saved or not, irrespective of who they are. Money and power corrupt, as Nicholas Delbanco well knows, and that’s the crux of In the Name of Mercy. Nicholas Delbanco, welcome to The Book Show.
Delbanco: Well, thank you Doug. It’s lovely to be here even though I’m at a distance. But one comfort in that is that you called me a dandy when you can’t see what I’m wearing. It’s sort of a remnant of a shirt and a pair of shorts left over from working in the garden this morning. So it’s nice to have an excuse to come on in and talk to you about books.
Glover: Now, In the Name of Mercy takes its form from the thriller genre in a way. It’s a kind of a “who done it.” In the first two pages, the prologue, you have two bodies, a man and a woman, we don’t know if it’s a murder suicide, or a double suicide. John Donne’s poems are open on the table and Mendelssohn in the CD player. What made you write it this way? I know in the past that you’ve written books and modeled them on sort of traditional forms, on traditional stories, the prodigal son, in The Martlet’s Tale, and so on and so forth. Were you doing the same thing here, this time?
Delbanco: Actually not. In really all of those early books, that you so kindly referred to as my wunderkinder period, I would think of them as closer to apprentice texts, by which I mean I was following previous models and attempting to replicate previous forms. Now, it’s perfectly clear that there are forms and even formulas for the murder mystery. But I hadn’t been familiar with them except as a casual reader and I’d never tried this sort of thing before and it isn’t as if I were consciously imitating some previous text. As a result, now I sort of cheerfully set out to write this book quickly, because it seemed like a contemporary issue and not one that ought to take me a decade to grapple with. I did find myself spending a lot of time puzzling over presentation. For instance, that prologue to which you refer in which there are two dead and unidentified bodies whose identity we’ll only come to understand or learn very closely to the end of the book. That prologue was not there to begin with, I added it maybe a year ago into composition because I felt that I was in danger of slipping into the old novelist’s habits of telling tales without turning them into riddles, and I needed a kind of dramatic opening beat. The one option that you didn’t include when you described those two bodies was that it might be a double murder as well as a murder suicide.
Glover: Oh, yes.
Delbanco: I’m quite resolutely aspecific there.
Delbanco: So I do want that question to be at the back of the reader’s brain for at least the first hundred pages or two hundred pages. And this mystery is meant to be one in which it’s not so easy to identify or locate the killer. There are forms of the mystery story as you know in which we see who does the killing early on, immediately, and the form of the mystery consists of how does this person get caught? I think in television terms of the old Columbo series where you saw the act being enacted, really, underneath the credits, and then the whole question is how did Peter Falk come to catch the criminal, but we knew who the criminal was. There’s another kind of murder mystery that’s very familiar to us all, in which the answer is, or is supposed to be unclear until the final page, and then some brilliant someone solves it for you and everything falls retrospectively into place. I was sort of trying to chart a middle course between those two and that had something to do with the shape of the whole.
Glover: Now, this is a slight aside. Just last night I was going through the book and on page seventy-eight, I counted up the bodies at that point and there were nine so far and that was less than a third of the way through the book. There are a truly amazing number of bodies in this book. It’s like a Greek tragedy.
Delbanco: Well, as I don’t need to tell you, as a novelist, and as one who’s engaged in this sort of endeavor, one of the problems with killing all of your characters off so early is that these are people who you’ve spent some time on rendering vivid and suddenly they’re gone. Or, you learn to love them and they can’t come back, except of course in flashback or retrospect. Indeed, in most books, it seems to me, when there are deaths, it’s because the novelist has grown weary of that character and can’t figure out how to get rid of him or her. But in this case I did have something like a serial murder or a systematic series of murders, and so, yes, that was an issue. Hey, I killed almost everybody off; I kept one or two around at book’s end, for the sake of a sequel [laughs]. But in fact, it was an issue to me, how many people I laid low.
Glover: But it’s interesting, first of all, you don’t have a detective. You eliminate that form of the genre, this is not really a genre book, but anyway, you go to third person multiple point of view. You have an amazing number of bodies, also an amazing number of points of view, an amazing number of other well fleshed out characters, many of whom are fleshed out and then killed, right away. And that seems almost a Dickensian tour-de-force, of invention in some ways.
Delbanco: Well thank you and thanks for noticing it. I think in fact that is the principle technical both problem and perhaps success of the book, that I don’t have a single central character who acts as “the sleuth.” When you think about the mysteries that we’ve even glancingly mentioned so far, really almost every example of the form that I can think of, there’s almost someone who sets up “the problem.” Now that someone might be a habitual sleuth, like Agatha Christie’s heroine, or Hercule Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes, or any of the figures in…even John le Carré has George Smiley recurring again and again. So you know you’re in the presence of a habitual inspector, as it were, who’s going to come to the bottom of it on the last page. Or there are other kinds of books in which it’s not a professional witness but rather somebody who happens to get caught up in the story and implicated by it, whether it’s somebody who has to try and prove his own innocence, as in Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, or somebody’s lover or parent or child has been killed and who makes a personal vendetta out of tracking it down, or a journalist. There are almost any number of supervisory consciousnesses that tend to track us through the thicket in the wilderness of the book and tend to act as a kind of guide for the reader. And in many ways, I think what was both most interesting and most difficult for me is that I didn’t do that. I created a world, or tried to, in which there was a protagonist, certainly, he’s the doctor at the center of the novel and the one who begins it almost exclusively, but it’s not as if he knows what’s happening either. Indeed, he’s a principle suspect. And he’s part of the world that the reader has to make sense of. So that if the book succeeds, and you’re suggesting that in this regard it does, it’s because the reader tries to make sense of it. And I think that in many ways when you’re confronting a major life problem not as a reader, but as a witness to the world, that’s exactly the way one solves it, not because someone has told you how to, but because you look at the options available and you come to make your choice. In this case, the choice is who’s doing the killing and whether or not he or she should have.
Glover: With that I want to interrupt just momentarily to let everybody know, let our listeners know, that I’m speaking with the novelist, Nicholas Delbanco, author of the brand new book, In the Name of Mercy, just published by Warner Books. To go back to that, we really haven’t set this up very well, or I haven’t. But it takes place in the medical world, in a hospital and a neighboring hospice. The bodies that pile up are mainly patients, some of whom have been killed, or have committed suicide, it’s not clear sometimes, some of them have died of natural causes, some of whom are murdered. After that initial opening, though, where the bodies appear, there’s a couple of chapters, where things begin to be set up and you begin with this terrible, sort of horrific, sad death, a doctor Peter Julius, a gerontologist, is watching his wife, Julia, die of melanoma. This sets up the whole thematic issue of the novel: when is it right to help someone to die? It sets that up, but it sets it up in a stunningly graphic, detailed way. The doctor is a doctor and he’s watching someone he loves die in an objective and medically detailed way. It’s an incredibly sad and touching passage. Prior to coming here today, I read this autobiographical essay that you wrote and you mentioned that your mother, in 1974, died of cancer. And there’s this one passage, you say, “The forces of medicine, money and love were arranged to do battle with something the size of a pea in her brain. It was no contest, the pea won hands down. Unnumbered hours by her bedside notwithstanding, I was not there the day my mother died. The readiness is all. I have written of this obliquely. Someday, perhaps I will face it head on and at length.” Two things. One is that phrase, or sentence, “The readiness is all,” repeats in the novel.
Delbanco: Yes, I can’t actually quote it in its entirety, but it’s a famous phrase, and I’m borrowing it shamelessly from Hamlet, when he says, in effect how, “Thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart,” when he says to Horatio, I’m a little nervous about this fight I’m going to be having, there are bad auguries. And Horatio says, “Don’t do it,” and then Hamlet says something to the effect that there’s a special providence in the fall of the sparrow, “It be not now, ‘twill come, and if it be now then it will not come later, the readiness is all. Let be.” And that’s the great and even characteristic Shakespearean heroic response toward the prospect of imminent death. It’s exactly what Caesar says when he defies augury and leaves Calpurnia behind, and goes out to the forum. So that phrase, “The readiness is all,” possibly should have been in quotes, maybe it was. You’re quite right to remind me, though I had in fact forgotten, that I had predicted about a decade ago that at some point I would try and face this head on. I don’t think that my mother’s death is in any obvious way connected to this novel, she did die twenty years ago and in circumstances very different from any of those that are here described. But in an important way, it sort of structured the whole concern or the focus. And there’s one crucial way in which it did so, that we haven’t yet mentioned, which is that my elder brother who is a doctor at Beth Israel hospital, was really my collaborator and expert witness in all this. He it was that gave me all the detail that the book contains about medicine. I wasn’t previously competent in that and I’m still not so sure I am [laughs], but I vetted it through him…
Glover: …You sound like you could pass now.
Delbanco: Excuse me?
Glover: You sound like you could pass now, just put on a white coat.
Delbanco: Well, I may be able to get away with it; I certainly didn’t try to without his supervisory attention. So that this was in that sense a family affair and in that sense, very definitely it was a kind of indirect homage to, or acknowledgment of, the death of our mother, more than twenty years ago now. Let me return, if I may, to what you graciously described as a powerful opening beat of the book, in which Dr. Julius watches and then assists his wife in dying. Without giving anything extra away, because I do, as I said before, I spent a whole lot of time trying to turn this into a mystery. I think it’s fair to say that the novel does open with what I take to be as gracious and decent and generous and humane an act of dispatch of a woman by a man, he kills her, or assists in her death. And the novel ends, or at least comes close, its climatic moment is also an act in which a man dispatches a woman, but it is about as obscene and savage and unjustified as it lay within my competence to imagine. And in a sense, the whole action of the novel is…the trajectory describes from the one to the other, they are a pair, a set of scenes in a way, but everything else has changed. And what I want the reader to do is see how they sort of mirror each other, but how one of them is an atrocity and one is an act of decency.
Glover: Right, there’s that very pleasing circularity, circle of the novel, where even the object, the book of John Donne’s poems, the Mendelssohn, comes back as you move towards the very end other novel. But everything, of course, as you say is altered, the whole tone. I know the savagery at the end is amazing. We’re getting close to the end; there are a couple other technical things that you do so well that I want to draw people’s attention to because I think they’re very interesting. And we’re not going to get to all of them. But there’s this. One thing is the incredible density of detail. Some of the medical detail, in fact, you get to the point where’s there’s almost a poetry of medical detail, some of which we may not understand, but we trust because of the authority and the rhyme and the kind of poetry of the language.
Delbanco: Thanks for noticing that, I felt that very strongly when I was reading medical texts, and the abstracts that my brother would send me, for instance. Even though I don’t really know what it signifies, there’s a ring to that language and it’s very hard not to think of as almost incantatory. Some of that is true of legalese also, and of scientific jargon, but I think that the medical profession is precise in ways that you and I only intermittently can try to be. And I was very moved by that language and incorporated it as I could.
Glover: I also think that every good writer in his or her books sticks in something about how he or she wrote the book, so I pulled up this passage, later, very near the end of the book, you say, “The poetry is in the data, as Arthur told her, dying. The art in the flat fact, we live by little details, not by large abstractions, we believe that our personal story might stand for a general truth.” That seems like almost a credo for you.
Delbanco: Well, I can’t think of a better way to sign off than to have heard you repeat that. Yes, of course...
Glover: We’re not quite signing off.
Delbanco: …the greatness of art is exactness, it’s the naming of names. It is not kind of, heady or breathy abstraction, it’s as much precision as our imagination can render. And that’s why these shapes flip so thoroughly close through our minds on the desk.
Glover: We have a tiny bit of time left and I wanted to add to this, to carry on just this little theme here, this technical theme. That there’s other things that you do. First of all, when you do character, you do a great kind of…for each character who is important, who has a point of view, you do a great punted biography. You slip that into the text very quickly and efficiently and dramatically. But then you have a lot of these characters that are dying, and you slip into their points of view as they die, so that we don’t…of course, we’re not in the murderer’s point of view. There’s only two people in the room, right, the murderer and the guy who’s dying. So you slip in. And what you do there, you render dying…you move into a kind of stream of consciousness, where, again, the language is detailed and highly charged with poetry. So I’ll read a tiny bit again. This is a man dying of AIDS. “Kidney failure, just kidding kiddo, steak and kidney pie, kid gloves, Kid Gavilan, but not Kit Carson, new kid on the block and what was that Durante song, Inkadinkado?” Did I say that right? “Kidney trouble, kidney stone, I own or used to swim in once and share and share alike, a kidney shaped and bright blue swimming pool, kick the kid’s knee, kid the can, no, what he meant was kick the can,” and so on.
Glover: So that’s another sort of technical move that you make that enlivens the novel intensely.
Delbanco: Well, thank you. Partly that was because I had to keep the identity of the murderer secret.
Glover: Right, of course.
Delbanco: So I had to have each of these people sort of staring face forward in their increasingly hallucinatory moments and not notice who, or not be able to identify for us who it was that, as it were, pulled the plug. And as you remember at the end of each of those passages and chapters there’s a refrain, “there was no one in the room.”
Delbanco: By which I mean both the person is dead and the murderer has left. And that too was an attempt to hold off for a while before we identified that particular lethal shadow.
Glover: And with the word shadow, we will close.
Glover: Thanks so much for being on the show.
Delbanco: And thank you for having me, it was a real pleasure. Take care.
Glover: My guest has been Nicholas Delbanco, author of the brand new novel, In the Name of Mercy, just published by Warner Books. We at The Book Show welcome your comments and suggestions. Just drop me a line, care of The New York State Writers Institute at the State University of New York at Albany, Albany, New York, 12202. Or email me directly at email@example.com. This is Douglas Glover, saying so long for now from The Book Show.
This episode of The Book Show was produced by public radio station WAMC in cooperation with the New York State Writers Institute at the State University of New York at Albany.
Transcribed by Eva Romero, 1/31/06