Tag: Interview

A conversation on “Paradise” with David James Poissant

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Photo by Davide Bovati

read HERE the
Italian version

The headquarters of NN Editore are located in a classic Milanese courtyard framed by balustrade houses. David is already there. He welcomes us, offering drinks, as we were guests in his home. The temperature is atrociously hot so we accept the offer right away. Soon, his kindness and friendliness put us at ease and all participants feel free to ask their own questions.

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In your collection of short stories we’ve noticed the presence of a “domesticated” landascape: we see outskirts, highways with the popular diners (a typical American topos) but there is no trace of clash with the wild side of nature. Even with wild nature, unexpected in large cities, everything is calm and enjoyable. Do you agree?

Yes and no (he is smiling). What I am trying to show in a couple of stories is the weird tension existing in America. We invaded many places where animals used to live. For example, I live in Orlando and thirty miles down the road there is Disney World: this is really insane! We built a castle on a swamp and this doesn’t make sense simply because we dont’ belong there. This is the strangest thing! At night I like to take walks to help me think. In the neighborhood, I can still see deers and armadillos, while in the past it was easy to come across hogs and bears that ran away because they were frightened by humans. Of course, there still are many birds, turtles and alligators; an alligator is essentially my neighbour. There are many ponds in Florida too, even if you can’t see them. One aspect is particularly important to me: there are animals that we can keep with us, pets like dogs and cats, and those we cannot keep with us.  

In Lizard man, for example, the protagonist tries to keep an alligator in a cage and this is something that people try to do for real in Florida! The result is that every year someone ends up on the TV news after trying to keep an animal at home which should be not domesticated. And these people are even surprised when they are bitten. “Watch it! It’s an alligator, not a pet!” We tend to consider certain spaces to be ours. We think they are not wild, but the reality is that wilderness is so close to us: it is close to us but it doesn’t belog to us. Have I answered your question?

Yes you have. I had another question on animals. They seem to be “domesticated” too: the buffalos in the reserve or the Moster of Gila closed in a box, they don’t belog in those places. All interactions between men and animals don’t take place in the typical wilderness one would expect (another American topos). How do you feel about that?

Well, I was tying to express a certain kind of sadness. The Gila monster in a box and the alligator in a cage are two examples. We tend to use animals for our purposes while they should simply live their lives. I wanted the title of this collection to be like a story speaking to me. In the last story I wonder whether animals have a soul or whether there is a God for them too. I don’t have an answer. I grew up in Georgia, in the suburbs, and now I live in a more rural part of Florida and still it is not wild. I don’t know wilderness the way other writers do. Other writeres are doing very well about that but they live in an other part of America.

An other peculiar thing is that some characters have a grotesque aspect. Dan, the protagonist of The Heaven of Animals, has a scar on his face and one of his ears is missing a piece. The same for the girl in Amputee, of course. What are you looking for in these characters? Why did you choose them?

I love Flannery O’Connor. She was very interested in the idea of Southern grotesque and in the gothic genre, but other things I really love come from good movies and good TV shows. The Wire, for example, is one of my favourite TV shows. The protagonists of that series were real people, they really lived in Baltimore, where the action was set, and they were not beautiful people. At the opposite, when you watch Friends, for example, you have fun but the fact is that the beauty of the protagonists is totally unrealistic! Who has six friends who look that good? It is a sort of fantasy land. I was born in a working class family. My father was a roofer, he put shingles on top of houses. I did that for a summer and it was the most awful work! It’s so hot and your knees get the grip on the shingles like they are tied one to the other. I was born in New York and when I was six years old I moved with my family to Atlanta where my father began to earn more money. We became more middle class, but I still feel a deeper connection with the working class people. So what I really wanted to do was to tell the stories of the ones who are not “beautiful”. Those people deserve to have their stories told, no matter what abilities or disabilites they may have.

We know that you are writing a novel. Could you tell us what is the difference between writing a novel or a short story? Is it more difficult to write a novel?

It’s both harder and easier. On the one hand the first draft of a novel takes so much longer to be done. I can write the first draft of a short story in a couple of days or in two weeks so that I can spend the next month doing corrections: you have the whole thing in your head while you’re composing it. Instead, the first draft of the novel took me two years! When you write three hundred or four hundred pages, you simply cannot remember what you wrote at page one hundred, it’s impossible. There are many repetitions and this requires more review. On the other hand you can write and then chek everything better because it is a single piece and in four or five years it is finished. The Heaven of Animals took nine years to be completed. Even though each story is short, to get all of the stories right in a book takes longer than a longer novel that has only one story. Does that make sense?

About Italy… Have you ever read an Italian author’s work?

Calvino! I read his collections and I particularly love his inventiveness. There are a couple of stories in my book that have that kind of weird feeling; as is the case with The Baby Glows or What the Wolf Wants and I think everybody likes to explore in a more magical world.

This is curious because Italy is not a country known for short stories even if something is changing in the publishing industry. However some of the greatest Italian writers of short stories writers, like Buzzati or Calvino, wrote imaginary stories and very often the protagonists were animals.

I must read them then! It is interesting because in America we have the same problem with short stories; they are not appriciated like novels are. And I have a couple of friend who say the same thing. Everybody loves novels! Of course I love both forms. I love writing and reading both novels and short stories, but there is something about the stories that meakes them special. It is the density, the economy of the language. You can create a perfect story. When you have five thousand words there is no excuse to not have every word perfect and in the right place. A novel is much longer and it won’t be perfect. I have never read a perfect novel. I have read many good novels but in all of them there is still something I would change in some way.

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After meeting with the public and the speech of the translator, Gioia Guerzoni, at Libreria Verso, and with the welcomed help of an unspecified number of beers and glasses of wine, we become human again and start speaking about TV shows…

…Oh yes, you mean the woman in Olive Kitteridge, the one who plays the Sheriff  in Fargo…? Well, she is the wife of one of the Coen brothers!

Really? Now I understand why she is in every movie!

(we laugh out loud)