the sunshine. CB: Yeah. In a culture in which everything is sexualized, there’s a good chance that the sex is being used to sell something. It’s being used not only to sell something but to sell you on the idea that you should acquire something so that you can have this type of experience. To some degree violence is presented as both a spectaclesince we’re living in a society of the spectacle. It’s fun to look at, it’s exciting, it’s the solution to something. But in my books, sex isn’t there to sell you on anything, and the violence, rather than solving something or presenting an interesting spectacle, instead is, in its way enigmatic. Saul and Patsy, a good deal of that book is about the aftermath of violence and the inability of a community to grieve somebody who was not handsome, was not smart, was not all-American, was not an achiever. In some ways the demons that arise in that book have to do with the and that’s what I think Saul has to teach those kids at the end. I was very much affected after the bombings in Madrid that in Spain there was a day of national mourning in which people went outside and publicly grievedmournedthe lives that were lost. And I thought that is not something this country does very well. We just think of who are we going to get back at? How are we doing to manage payback? There’s a lot of what I call buried religious impulse and material in those stories, probably the most in a book of mine called Believers, but it’s in the other ones, too. I felt, for example, in Saul and Patsy, that after Gordy Himmelman commits suicide, that in fact you can’t just say, “Oh that’s a tragedy,” and then go on to something else. That it has to have an aftermath, and it has to have a move that looks like redemption, but which doesn’t come from any of the traditional sources of that. I’m very suspicious of the idea of redemption. I think more often than not it’s processed through sentimentality, so I felt that I had to leave enough that was unsolved so that you wouldn’t think that there had been an enormous epiphany where all the problems were solved. Because that, it seemed to me, would be so clearly sentimental that nobody would believe it. As it is, one commentator on the book says, “Oh, what does Baxter know about evilhe’s a Midwesterner.” He said, basically this book is all about innocence. Well, it is and it isn’t. I mean, I know perfectly well what he’s talking about; I mean, it is a small city. The scale of the story is not large. There are not atrocities in the sense that we usually use that word, but it seems to me that every writer chooses the scale model and mine was not huge, but it wasn’t tiny, either. It was at a scale I could manage. TO: You speak directly to the self-consciousness in Feast of Love. I don’t want to use the word “clever,” meaning a manipulative writerly device, but when did you decide to write yourself into the book? CB: Well, I mean, fairly early on I decided that to tell that story properly, it had to come through the voices of the characters and once I decided that, I knew I had a big technical problem on my hands, which was who’s listening? Now it’s a very old formthe Decameron and in some ways, the Canterbury Tales, arise from people telling stories, but I thought in this case, “Who’s listening?” Even in Calvino’s “If On Winter’s Night a Traveler,” that these people are marooned for the evening in one place and the only thing I could think of was the person listening to all of this was me. A writer with a writing block and insomnia walking around at night, scrounges up and finds people who will tell him stories about their love lives. It’s quite implausible in its way because men almost will never tell anyone about their love lives, but I had to make that seem as if it could happen. David can’t do it. He only comes up in the novel once and he talks about his love life by talking about his health and by talking about hunting. Here’s a guy who’s been having an affair and is desperately drawn toward this woman, but can hardly talk about it and what does he do? Well, he’s been a hunter, but now he doesn’t want to do that anymore and then he has a medical thing with his throat, and that causes him to leave his wife. It’s all he can talk After the bombings in Madrid, people went outside and publicly grieved… that is not something that this country does very well. We just think of who are we going to get back at? How are we going to manage pay back? about. I always have trouble with guys like that, because they’re hard to get into stories; they’re not loquacious, they don’t put their feelings out where you can find them. So you kind of have to maneuver them into or push them into doing that. TO: Bradley doesn’t express his emotions, either. He’s also quite closed, but sweeter in a way. CB: Yeah, he’s a more sort of Woody Allen character and he’s a complainer, but he does, in his way, get around to telling you what happens. Bradley is the kind of guy who kind of has to deal with whatever it is he gets. TO: I loved that about him, and I loved the end. I thought if this character doesn’t find some happiness, as a reader I’m going to be so angry. CB: He does, and when he does he can’t talk about it. TO: You certainly can’t talk about happiness as easily as you can about unhappiness. CB: Right. You can’t talk about happiness; it’s bad luck. Former Observer intern Emily Rapp received her MFA in May from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas-Austin. 7/2/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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