There are a few different reasons why I write. Sometimes it’s because a good story gets its hooks into me and drags me thrashing to my desk. Other times it’s because an interesting character demands to be brought to life and won’t leave me alone until I get him or her – or it – down on the page and out into the world. And sometimes it’s just to be part of a conversation – a literary conversation, that is.
Often when I write, I’m responding to other books out there – Please was largely a response to the “dirty realism” of Raymond Carver and the like, for instance. I don’t necessarily intend my books and stories to be answers to the works of others, but I do want them to be moments in a broader cultural conversation. I don’t really expect readers to see it that way, but that’s the way it often is in my head. So it is a nice surprise when someone does see one of my books as part of the conversation.
This morning I was awoken by my friend Jonathan Bennett messaging me to say he’d heard someone saying nice things about my book The Warhol Gang on the CBC’s Day 6 program. I dragged myself out of bed and went in search of a phone or iPad that still had battery power left and listened to Becky Toyne’s review of Shovel Ready (starts around the 41:30 mark), the debut novel by Adam Sternbergh, culture editor at the New York Times. (Is there a cooler title than that?) She mentioned The Warhol Gang as a similar read, as well as William Gibson’s books and The Road by Cormac McCarthy (also Andrew Kaufman, Sheila Heti, Lynn Crosbie, Patrick deWitt). I love Gibson, of course, and do count him as an influence – and I certainly had books like Pattern Recognition in mind while writing The Warhol Gang (also some Don De Lillo and a bit of Tibor Fischer). The funny thing is I haven’t read Sternbergh’s book, a noir futuristic thriller, but it’s on my to-read list. In fact, it just got moved to the top of the list.
Gibson, McCarthy, Sternbergh, Kaufman, Heti, Crosbie, deWitt… yeah, I like being part of that conversation.
Check out Shovel Ready. Here’s the blurb:
Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.
Now he’s a hitman.
In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap in” to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds—the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy—to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.