Luis Chitarroni - A self-negating series of notes for an unfinished work of fiction, this astonishing book is made up of ideas for characters and plots, of literary references both real and invented, and is populated by an array of fictional authors and their respective literary cliques, all of whom sport multiple pseudonyms, publish their own literary journals, and, in turn, produce their own ideas for books, characters, and poems


Luis Chitarroni, The No Variations: Diary of an Unfinished Novel, Darren Koolman, Dalkey Archive Press, 2013.
                 read it at Google Books

A self-negating series of notes for an unfinished work of fiction, this astonishing book is made up of ideas for characters and plots, of literary references both real and invented, and is populated by an array of fictional authors and their respective literary cliques, all of whom sport multiple pseudonyms, publish their own literary journals, and, in turn, produce their own ideas for books, characters, and poems . . . A dizzying look at the backrooms of literature, where aesthetic ambitions are forever under siege by petty squabbles, long-nurtured grudges, bankrupt publishers, and self-important critics, The No Variations is a serious game, or perhaps a frivolous tragedy, and is one of the great “novels” of contemporary Latin American literature.

“In this book—one of the most complex and challenging texts of Argentine literature in recent years — the Borgesian themes of erudition,  tradition, and consecraton are sent through the shredding machine. The result is a ‘novel’ made up of diaries, notes, forgetfulness, articles,  and poems created by writers invented by the author.”

I have a review in the Times Literary Supplement of Luis Chitarroni's The No Variations.
I note that The No Variations is "not a novel in the traditional sense":
Instead, it is the promise of a novel, notes and plans for a work of fiction which in each iteration is cut short by the author with a definitive “NO” – but the “NO” comes too late, for the reader has already experienced the rejected scenario, and thus joins the author in the complex realm of the artistic act. Consumers of art are usually spared the terrifying idea plaguing the artist: that for every creative decision taken, there are infinite, equally valid choices that could have been made instead.

The No Variations is thus writing about writing, the moment of creativity both expressed and scrutinised. The author’s annotations to himself demonstrate the underlying transience of what is eventually presented by novelists and publishers (and literary supplement reviewers) as practically inevitable.
Chitarroni "challenges the novel by refusing to rise to the challenge of the novel, which is to say that he refuses to make a convincing whole of story, setting, and cast." It's not an approach that will please everyone.
I, for one, am very interested in notational story-telling (I find Maugham's A Writer's Note Book fascinating, for example, and I perhaps alone in thinking that the "Appendix" is what "makes" The Sound and the Fury); and yet because Chitarroni's work is defined not by a searching for solutions but rather by the inevitability of his "no", I was unable to get any traction as a reader.
For this reason I compare it unfavourably with Perec and Queneau. They applied arbitrary constraints to their writing as a means of transcending other, traditional restraints that had become invisible by being so long in view they stabilised on the retina of the imagination. These accepted conventions were held by Oulipo members to be equally as arbitrary – but they undermined them without sacrificing emotional engagement.
Some for whom reading is an intellectual game rather than an emotional experience will find The No Variations to be just the thing, and there's certainly something valid about having our readerly expectations challenged in this way – but must the challenge be so very dull? - T. Koelb

Because we were late in arriving, because we were late in departing, because we didn’t care that we’d be late, and, above all, because those from whom we waited turned out to be ourselves, which is to say, the others, the ones we called, ‘the slow ones.’ – The No Variations
Readers can only hope to be included in that community, that “we,” for the community described so affectionately here makes this one of the most memorable passages from The No Variations, Luis Chitarroni’s dense and often disorienting new non-novel. The passage appears early in the text, while expectations of narrative continuity still hold purchase. Lateness, in fact, extends hope for a plot, and with its charisma buys patience against the frustrations of plots subsequent absence. Instead of plot, the novel offers personality. The expansiveness and potential inclusivity of this passage pleasurably inscribes the writer himself; yet the same sort of expansiveness can slide easily into solipsism, an overindulgent memoirish quality.
Luis Chitarroni
Luis Chitarroni
The No Variations balances between anecdote and comprehensive narrative. The tension between the two appears as early as the subtitle, which includes two distinctive genres, the diary and the novel. Presumably about the process of finishing, or trying to finish a novel, the text lingers in the vicinity of narrative, very literally “about” a novel, but there is no plot proper to this text. The specter of a plot as the ideal end of these notes makes its absence in the text a frustrating element. Instead, Chitarroni offers vignettes of the protagonist, Nicasio Urlihrt, trying to revive a literary anthology with poems and prose by friends and colleagues. The compilation of these notes makes little sense, however, although it does collate little plots, some more realistic than others, and often narrating the obstacles of everyday life that make literary work so difficult: “There were whole days and nights,” Chitarroni continues, “During which we lost our way…during which we lost our purpose. We bummed around exchanging tales of days gone by, anecdotes, gossip.”
At times these fragments are satisfying and pleasurable. Furthermore, the text’s refusal to neatly organize the diffuse experience of living isn’t a particularly shocking or innovative technique. Instead, what makes the book so compelling is its identification with the protagonist’s sense of frustration of balancing writing and living. Occasionally he glamorizes the writer’s preoccupation with life, with a glow of pyrrhic consolation. He insists, in occasional bursts, that living is more important: “The writer doesn’t really want to write, he wants to be; and in order to truly be, he must face up to the difficult challenge of not writing at all—not even a single line—of not theorizing, of not lifting a finger.” The seduction of the first part of that assertion (that to be is better than to write about being) tends to overshadow the diarist’s assertion that not writing is also difficult. The protagonist goes on to claim that in order to strive to live rather than to write, he “became deaf” to the world around him, obliged himself to ignorance, rather than, presumably, be tempted by the desire to create or represent.
If, for Chitarroni, the distinction between writing life and living it is central, his text from the start sides with writing: it is, after all a diary, and life-writing is thus the ideally professed genre. One technique deployed by the diarist in evading responsibility for writing or failure to write, is to continually point to his use of a pseudonym. Nicasio Urlihrt’s adoption of a publishing name, “Hilaríon Curtis” allows him to claim, with measured if frustrating hilarity, that “although I’m not really a writer, I’ve had many things published in my name…The whys and wherefores of all this escape me, as they would anyone. But I’m not writing this to resolve them.” Perhaps to reconcile his disavowal with his profession, or to suggest a possible reconciliation, the narrator admits on the first page that Nicasio Urlihrt is an anagram for Hilaríon Curtis; it’s hardly difficult to notice then, that these are both anagrams for Luis Chitarroni. The alphabetical acrobatics suggest that the text perhaps really is an experience of real-life-writing, rather than just very close mimicry.
So if the adoption of not-quite-true, reassembled personalities is one way to write life while still living life, and to not let living become an obstacle toward the practice of writing, the prose also takes on the work of remixing and reassembling. Sometimes this happens locally: for example, two paragraphs after reminiscing about his clique’s self-designation as “the slow ones,” the narrator returns to the theme, but with a subtle and important shift in tense: “Because we’ll be late in arriving, because we are loath to depart, because we don’t care that we’ll be late.” The transformation from paste tense to anticipated future describes the present lovingly, the experience of a community loath to move forward. Together, these passages support the claim that yes, to live in the present is more valuable to write about it retrospectively from the future. In a less local register, Chitarroni returns to certain scenes across the course of the novel, and although they’re a little more difficult to identify, relying more heavily on the readers’ memory, the rewards and pleasures of noticing these passages are commensurately great. That pleasure balances the frustrations of searching for narrative, searching for cause and effect: instead, it’s differently pleasurable to identify a theme—several themes—and their variations.
The emotional effectiveness of these moments is in both this kind of recognition within the text and the hope of recognizing yourself in the characters. That double identification is essential in the genre of the “variation,” at least, as practiced by Chitarroni. It is a mode of life-writing that distills personal experience into the blocks of language that comprise it. As time passes, these elements—of a sentence, of a literary clique, or even of the name of an individual—rearrange themselves into new forms while preserving some trace of the original content. The moment of recognition involves the reader insofar as she is compelled to reach back into the elements of her own past, and begin to recognize these characters or these lines as shaping her lived experience beyond the pages of the book. In this way the claims of the text take on a life of their own, and the anticipated characters “will turn out to be ourselves.” - Ana Schwartz

In his Preface, translator Darren Koolman helpfully offers some context for this 'Diary of an Unfinished Novel' (so the sub-title -- at least on the cover: to add to the confusion the title page and copyright information call it a 'Journal of an Unfinished Novel': a work in flux indeed ...). As Koolman explains, Chitarroni's original intent was to: "write a hybrid of the preceding two" novels he had published (one of them: "a collection of satirical biographies of writers, both real and fictitious"). Instead, he eventually published this "omnium gatherum" of material that might have gone into such a novel -- and notes also that among Chitarroni's plans for future work is one consisting entirely of annotations to this one.
       The resulting work isn't entirely a variation on negation, as the title might suggest -- though "NO" comes up a lot -- but also not your usual notes-for-a-novel. The proposed novel centers on a literary journal -- "Agraphia (Unwritten) [or Alusiva (Allusive) ?]" -- or an anthology of the writings from it, and/or the writers who contribute to it. Among the writers is Nicasio Urlihrt -- introduced as an anagram (and, yes, it is an anagram of the author's name) and pseudonym in a literary culture full of such false fronts.
       In 1971 Urlihrt won a short-story competition held by the French magazine Alusif / Imposture where one of the goals was for writers to: "adulterate their story with the most references and allusions". The No Variations, then, takes that to the next level: it is a novel of allusive-overkill, built largely, if not entirely on reference and allusion -- though with the occasional bit of (hi)story woven in. What's particularly intriguing and impressive here is the range: among the pivotal texts is D.H.Lawrence's unlikely St Mawr (with Lawrence at one point described by someone as, of all people, "the English Arlt"), and while Chitarroni brings in the obvious -- from: "those hated novels 62: A Model Kit or Revol's Mutaciones bruscas" to: "the pungent brevity of the biforked: Piglia, Aira" -- his references also extend to the far more traditional (William and Henry James, for example) and even texts such as the English translation of Niilo Idman's (1923) Finnish Melmoth the Wanderer-author Charles Maturin-biography. One note suggests simply: "Giordano Bruno, John Florio, Philip Sidney" (and, in case you missed the point or significance, the mention is repeated four pages later: "Again: Giordano Bruno, John Florio, Philip Sidney"). And yet this is also a text that references Stewart Home and: "Good old Julian Cope !"
       It's a game, of (various) sorts, and so, for example, a passage referencing "Kublai Khan's pleasure dome" and Xanadu that closes with the observation: "One hundred and seventy-four Scrabble points !" is followed by the observation: "But then somebody arrived from Porlock."
       At one point the author notes:
For what it's worth, I wasn't trying to write something experimental (much less spontaneous) when I commenced this journal. I was trying to find a structure in the mass of [modest, always modest !] narrative/cyclical intermittencies.
       Of course, that almost-apology is followed by a defiant: "NO" ..... And elsewhere the text reduces to:
Weariness. Self-indulgence.

       Yes, Chitarroni plays all the games -- admitting also:
The loose modality, the essential tolerance of the novel form invites pleonasm.
       And, yes, there is a lot here. Yet it's still novel enough: this isn't a David Markson-like collection of fragments, nor a more typical unfinished self-examination of a novel. Chitarroni continues to surprise, but also grounds enough of the text -- in the idea of the journal Agraphia/Alusiva, in some of the recurring references (right down to St Mawr) -- to provide a sense of stability. It makes for a very rich and often engaging text -- even as it also frustrates (on purpose, no doubt -- but that doesn't make it any less frustrating).
       Readers should be aware of what they're getting themselves into -- but for those who like this sort of thing it's quite rewarding. - M.A.Orthofer

An unsettling sensation welled up from time to time, as I ventured into and struggled through Luis Chitarroni’s The No Variations, a novel disguised as the journal of an author working on a novel, a novel which, if completed, would have been disguised as a journal—a literary journal, to be precise. Somewhere, I fretted, in this dense and demanding assemblage of notes, narrative fragments, author biographies, etc., was a concise and scathingly satirical portrayal of this very review, which was then obviously unwritten. I had been reading too carelessly to notice it; somehow I’d forgotten where I saw it. How would I ever find it again? And there it would be for everyone to see, blatantly undermining everything I could possibly write.
This anxiety might be pre-coded into the flesh of the Argentine’s first work to be translated into English. The persistent recurrence of an all-caps “NO,” often interrupting passages, also seems to be aimed directly at the reader, abruptly ending, not only the contents of the book, but also the just-budding bits of response that might rise while the reader wades through the thick torrents. Fitting that the literary journal around which the unfinished novel swirls should be called Agraphia, named for a type of aphasia resulting in the incapacity to write. My first instinct was to submit for publication a diary of an unfinished review—how else to contain all the reasons to read, to read and—well, if you’re lucky, not to write about, this fucking book.
Although Agraphia provides a kind of nexus for the text, the journal—like the novel, like the diary—never arrives at a full instantiation. Instead, Agraphia hovers like the memory of a dream emptied of any recollected content, evoking naught save the fact that something significant has been lost. Which is not to say that the book is about nothing, or even that its subject plays second fiddle to its form. Indeed the brash cacophony of narratives without beginnings or ends, names without characters, pseudonym’s without names, antitheses without theses ultimately meld and form into a kind of formlessness perfectly suited to depict the “writers without stories”—a pejorative appellation applied to the exclusive, illusorily erudite clique comprising Agraphia’s contributors and editors.
These “characters” are the real satirical targets of Chitarroni’s prose: authors like Marina Ipoustedguy, in whose books there appear not “a word that couldn’t have been dispensed with,” or Remi Sabatani, whose final book is described as “a wondrous achievement of arrogant display and inanity.” These are editors like Nicasio Urlihrt who would like to “transform this journal, which is a pandemonium of columns and pillars with no personality or style, into a paradise where calumny is warranted and pillory is praised.”
This is a sort of literary figure we are all in danger of aping when we write, obscurantists with nothing to say, but arsenal aplenty to cover our asses, artists like Hilarion Curtis, who might, by reshuffling the letters in his name, morph into the diabolical author of these demons, Luis Chitarroni, himself. And it is tempting to re-ascribe these acerbic attributes back onto Chitarroni and his daunting project. After all, much like Belisaria Tregua’s 13 Attempts to Abolish the Present, The No Variations “is despite its ingenuous premise one of the worst books to read in the Argentine literary canon.” But please don’t let that deter you.
Because unlike the contributions to Agraphia, The No Variations is not only an exercise in impossibly difficult and needlessly obscure writing; it is also a work precisely calculated to repudiate the propagation of the kind of literature it presumes to be. The ultimate target of Chitarroni’s well-aimed agraphia is the reader—particularly if she or he has any intention of writing under the book’s influence. Thus arose the abovementioned unsettling sensation—if I pretended to have understood the book, did my best to disguise my bewilderment, what would have distinguished me from the absurd writers the book so clearly mocks?
But I was wrong when I thought the book had already prefigured my review. The portentous passage was, in fact, still to come, and it would be hard to miss, (though, admittedly, hard to understand) printed in all-caps near the end of the book:
Let me admit forthwith, I did not understand this book, and almost certainly did not abandon myself to the herculean task of “truly appreciating it.” As Darren Koolman, the impetuous translator, points out in his generous preface, even a partial list of annotations would bloat the volume of the book to three times its current length. I do not mean to deter a more careful reader, should she find herself with the patience and smartphone I lacked. Every name and obscurity is a cryptic weave of allusions and puns, which expand indefinitely inasmuch they are parsed and penetrated. And it’s painful to admit I didn’t untangle very many.
But neither do I wish to discourage a reader like myself. Even the involuntary pariah will have the pleasures of encountering fragments of a story involvign a sex cult based on a D.H. Lawrence novella, or a minute-by-minute diaristic account of an increasingly inebriated and hallucinatory boat ride through the canals of Xochimilco. Even a reader as indolent as I, might be arrested by bouts of significance like: “Memory is the least attractive of the muses. And although she always changes her appearances, I only ever remember the least appealing,” or, “…love, the only condition for which reciprocation isn’t a law…?” or, “My splendid art, my sad profession.
And at the torn and tattered heart of this work is a vengeful critique of this literary profession, a critique founded on a firm love for this art. For the fictional affiliates of Agraphia, the community figures more like an arena than an alliance. The contributor to Agraphia doesn’t read her peer’s work in order to appreciate it, or to learn from it, but like, Elena Siesta, to acquire “hints, indications, suggestions, and ritornelli for the enrichment of her conversation.” This is a kind of savage war, differing only insofar as the tools and techniques of disempowerment and death have been refined—here defeat takes the form of admitting not that you have lost, but that you are lost, that you have not understood.
The oft-dreaded all-caps passage, quoted above, not only confirmed my anxieties—I had been tremendously lazy in my reading—it also assuaged them, challenging the assumption that I had done something deplorable. Perhaps there is something magnanimous about not possessing a replete understanding of a work of art, as magnanimous as not possessing an understanding of a friend or lover. I cannot use Chitarroni to boost my sense of self-worth. My pride is wounded. But I’m okay with that. Read The No Variations. Be defeated by it. Become, like this reviewer, another involuntary pariah—and it would be damn difficult not to be—another casualty of Chitarroni’s devastating art.
- Jesse Kohn

The No Variations (originally published in Spanish in 2007), is described in Darren Koolman’s Translator’s Preface as “an omnium gatherum of obscure references, cryptic anagrams, parenthetical remarks, indecipherable aide-mémoire, overblown critical extracts, imperfectly-wrought poems, bewildering drafts of unfinished stories, characters with unpronounceable names…everything, in other words, a reader might expect to find in the diary of an impenetrably difficult unfinished novel, the result being a book that seems to resist all acts of interpretation” (VI). I think the key words in there, for me, are “bewildering” and “impenetrably difficult.”
This book was a slog for me: I struggled to find a way to approach it, to follow it. It’s not particularly linear or narrative; plots are introduced and cut off by the NO of the title. It’s not character-driven, either: there are plenty of names, but I didn’t really get a sense of any of the characters as distinct people: they’re all contributors to a fictional literary journal that’s big on plagiarism and pseudonyms, but we don’t learn much more than that. There are some brief early character sketches (in which we learn, for example, that one character “is short and stocky” and “writes in longhand” and that another “affects elegance to conceal indigence”) and there’s a list, later, of which characters like which alcoholic beverages (“Red without question. And lots of it” for one; “Fernet or Negroni” for another), and I could maybe tell you which pairs of characters were lovers or spouses, but I don’t have a sense that I’m meant to understand any of these characters as people (4-5, 41). A lot of the book is concerned with writing and style, and sometimes this leads to humor: there’s mention of a book “in which there wasn’t a word that couldn’t have been dispensed with” (11); different versions of the same paragraph appear multiple times at different places in the text; there’s a section of the book in the style of Henry James. There’s a concern with what gets said: in the Jamesian section there’s a bit about the story a writer/narrator originally wanted to tell vs. the story he now wants to tell vs. the story he is actually telling. There are lists: I particularly like a list titled, in part, “List of places in London I should have seen during my first visit and their order” (185) and another list of “Ceremonies/Liturgies” that includes such items as “On Elena’s way of cutting the uncut pages of a book” (189). Overall, though, I am definitely not this book’s ideal reader, and ended up feeling fairly overwhelmed by it. - www.lettersandsodas.com/books/?p=5538

‘His cryptic style made the writing seem almost inscrutable, the references almost undetectable, but with occasional lapses of more direct and coherent prose.’ So the narrator of The No Variations describes the work of his anagrammatic character Nicasio Urlihrt, but he might as well be talking about himself. Indeed, this ‘diary of an unfinished novel’ is such a self-referential piece of work that one could easily compose a long-form review of it consisting entirely of quotes lifted from within. That this should be so is only appropriate: for The No Variations is centred on the workings of a fictional literary journal, Agraphia, which specialises in exactly such experimental, vaguely plagiaristic reviews.
The text itself is larded through with plagiarisms and suggestions for future plagiarisms. ‘Luini isn’t tall,’ writes Chitarroni. ‘Neither is he short. In fact, no one quite knows his height [see Kenner on Pound].’ Chitarroni makes frequent use of these square brackets: with them, the direction of the narrative voice moves away from the reader and toward the writer at work. Of all the techniques in use here, it is these brackets that do most to give The No Variations the provisional, unconstructed feel of a notebook. ‘He noticed [the soft glint of stealth in motion? Try thinking a concrete comparison] the slow descent of a spider.’ Such comments suggest what the text might have been, and so, like a meta-narrative, they inform how we read the text as it stands. But whereas meta-narrative generally works to dissemble an already assembled whole, Chitarroni’s square brackets serve to assemble a disassembled series of variations. They are the building blocks lying loose around the site of this unfinished project. They come before the text is ready. They constitute its proto-narrative.
To speak like this of a proto-narrative implies an existent narrative for it to come before. And yet, self-referential to the last, the text itself disaffirms this very notion. There is, we read, ‘no core narrative in these stories’. Such claims are ultimately self-defeating, however: the lack of a core narrative becomes the core narrative. It is probably for this reason that the text is most boring at precisely those ‘occasional lapses of more or less coherent prose’. We’re not too pushed about the story told because the real story here is that the story is not being told. In The No Variations the fully formed appears as fragmentary. In formally dramatizing the artistic process, Chitarroni makes digression core.  - Kevin Breathnach

José Emilio Pacheco - a national classic. Las batallas is about adolescence, both of a boy named Carlos and of his country, Mexico. It is a look at memory—individual and collective—and the way that collective memory fuses into history and national identity. It is also a specifically Mexican look at the economic and cultural shifts of the 20th century

José Emilio Pacheco, Battles in the Desert & Other Stories, Trans. by Katherine Silver, New Directions, 1987.
     read it at Google Books

Intense, despairing accounts of life in Mexico City.
Seven stories depict harsh realities of life in urban Mexico and the tragedies of childhood innocence betrayed.

The Spanish word historia can be translated as either “history” or “story.” This bit of information kept coming back to me the more I thought about the short fiction of Mexican writer José Emilio Pacheco. Pacheco is virtually unknown in the United States, but in Mexico his books are classics, required reading for many high school students.1 Even Café Tacuba, Mexico’s biggest rock band of the 1990s, paid tribute to Pacheco’s 1981 novella Las batallas en el desierto. This would be like Green Day saving space on their album to pen a tribute to Hester Pryne. Yet the only translation of Pacheco’s fiction available in English is New Direction’s slim 1987 collection Battles in the Desert and Other Stories (translated by Katherine Silver), which includes selected stories from two other books, El viento distante (The Distant Wind) and El principe de placer (The Pleasure Principle). How is it that a piece of literature that is so important in one country is so seldom read in a neighbor it shares a 3,000-mile border with?
Without diminishing their intrinsic literary merit, I think we could call some books national classics, read for what they say about a country’s enduring anxieties. In the United States, Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter would fall into that category. In Mexico, one work would certainly be Octavio Paz’s El laberinto de soledad (Labyrinth of Solitude), and another would be Las batallas. Las batallas is about adolescence, both of a boy named Carlos and of his country, Mexico. It is a look at memory—individual and collective—and the way that collective memory fuses into history and national identity. It is also a specifically Mexican look at the economic and cultural shifts of the 20th century.
The epigraph to Las batallas (printed in English in the Spanish edition) is the first two sentences of J.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” It’s an enigmatic statement: Does this mean that we can never understand the past? Or that any attempt to understand will only reveal more about the teller? Either way, we keep returning to that mysterious place called the past and looking at real foreign countries through their literature. As Israel writer Amos Oz recently wrote, “If you read a novel, you obtain a ticket into the most intimate recesses of another country and of another people.”
In some ways, reading another country’s history is like reading another person’s history, but in a book like Las batallas it’s doubled: here we absorb both personal and shared memories. I think of this process as “historia”: both story and history.
I. I Remember: Story
“I remember, I don’t remember.” With these words, Pacheco opens Las batallas. Carlos, our narrator, relates an event from decades before when he was a Mexico City schoolboy during the postwar presidency of Miguel Alemán (1946-1952). Basically, he falls in love with his friend Jim’s mother, Mariana. One day Carlos, who seems to be junior-high aged, leaves school, goes to Jim’s apartment, and confesses his love to Mariana. To Mariana and the reader, the love is something pure; to his friends and family, who send Carlos to the priest and psychologist, it is ridiculous and even disgusting. Carlos never sees Mariana or Jim again, though he does hear a rumor that she had committed suicide. It is a simple story of growing up—about the loss of “painful innocence” as Pacheco describes it in his story “August Afternoon,” or “the violent beauty of awakening to the adult world” according to writer Vicente Alonso in his recent article “Crónicas de un País Extraño” (Chronicle of a Strange Country)2.
José Emilio Pacheco
But it’s not really an adolescent’s story; this is the story of an adult man remembering. He equates what is largely seen as an optimistic period in Mexico’s past with a event that has scarred him. We are reminded of his classmate, Jorge, who in “The Pleasure Principle” says “If . . . what I’m living now is the ‘happiest period of my life,’ what must the others be like, goddamn it.” Pacheco cuts through the blurry haze of memories to remind us how acute the pains of adolescence—personal and national—really were.
As the epigraph has warned, the past is infinitely remote from us: we can’t understand it or even judge it. Time and again, Carlos reminds us that the Mexico City he remembers is one that no longer exists. But this is no valentine to a bygone era—echoing the opening paragraph, the last two paragraphs read:
I remember, I don’t remember even what year it was. Just these bursts, these flashes of light that bring everything back and the exact words. . . . How ancient! how remote! What an impossible story! . . . They demolished the school; they demolished Mariana’s building; they demolished my house; they demolished the Roman Quarter. That city came to an end. That country was finished. There is no memory of the Mexico of those years. And nobody cares: who could feel nostalgic for that horror?
As Vicente Alfonso writes, Pacheco’s fiction is the opposite of nostalgia: “His stories are trips to the past, but to the horror of the past.” The characters “try to exorcize the ghosts that still remain from then.”
Most of the stories in Battles in the Desert and Other Stories concern precocious adolescent boys growing up in Mexico City in the postwar years. With one character after another, we see the boys’ preternatural predictions of how their memories will haunt them. “August Afternoon” (told in the second person), begins and ends with the lines, “You will never forget that August afternoon.” In Battles in the Desert, Carlos has a similar sentiment. “I am going to keep my memory of this moment intact because everything that now exists will never be the same again.” They are obsessed with how moments will be remembered. As Jorge in “The Pleasure Principle” writes in his diary, he “wanted to write it all down and save it to see if one day in the future all of this that is so tragic now will seem like a comedy.” Tragic, romantic, or comic, the present is almost more important for the memories it will create than for the lived experienced.
Yet at the same time that certain moments seem destined to last forever, Carlos forces himself to recognize that time continues. He sees a photograph of Mariana as an infant and says:
I felt a great wave of tenderness come over me when I thought about something one never thinks about because it is so obvious: Mariana had also been a little girl, she had been my age, and she would be a woman my mother’s age and then an old lady like my grandmother. But at that moment she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Here, Carlos is wavering between his individual sense of time, this moment that is frozen forever (just like the photograph he looks at), and the historic time in which being born, falling in love, aging, and dying are the most ordinary occurrences in the world. The last sentence of the story reflects his attempts to integrate these two senses of time. Looking back as an adult, not sure if Mariana is still alive, he remarks, “If she is, she would be sixty years old.3 As a personal history his emotions are stuck in that extraordinary, life-freezing time, but as a collective memory Mariana’s life marches along with the passing of time and is forgotten.
II. The Mexican Miracle: History
If reminiscence is individual memory, then history is the sublimation of collective memory. Las batallas’s first chapter, “The Ancient World,” locates the narrative in a specific time by invoking collective memories. “We already had supermarkets, but still no television, only radio,” it begins and goes on to discuss who the sports commentators were, what cars were popular, what songs people listened to, and the disasters (polio, floods) that struck. There is an intimacy, almost coziness, to the narration, as the narrator seems to assume we remember the same time as he does. In fact, even for those of us who were not alive in the 1940s and 1950s, and who grew up in other countries to boot, these descriptions evoke a very particular time. Yet in the very second sentence, Carlos claims that, despite these precise cultural references, he does not know what year it was. Absolute historical reference is lost in the swarm of memories, the interpretation of history overpowering the fact of it.
As these references to collective events make clear, this isn’t just a book about a personal past, but about the specific past of Mexico. These historical and cultural explanations take up about half the space of the text, while Carlos’s interactions Jim and Mariana take up the remainder. It is as if Pacheco wanted to show that that individual and collective memories are equally significant in evaluating the past. Yet Pacheco himself is said to believe that no one outside of Mexico City would be interested in his books, as if cultural memory could belong only to those who have lived it. Of course this isn’t true—literature wouldn’t exist if we didn’t transcend the boundaries of our experience. Yet a little knowledge of Mexican history does help.
Most probably know that Mexico is defined by wars and marked by alternating periods of chaos and repression. It came into being as a nation in 1810 when it declared independence from Spain, though it took 11 bloody years for Spain to give up its colony. After winning independence, the country was invaded by both the United States and France. Then, strongman Porfirio Diaz came to power in 1877 and brought stability, but his 33 years of dictatorship so stifled the country that the opposition finally rebelled, initiating the decade-long Mexican Revolution during which two million were killed. Even after the Revolution, Mexico has been marked by several, albeit far smaller, episodes of violence and attempted rebellion, including the Cristero Rebellion by conservative Catholics who opposed the anti-clericism of the state.
For all of history’s continuing presence in Mexico, young Carlos finds it hard to believe that he does in fact live inside the progression of history and not in some post-historic age. He knows that the widow of former President Madero lives in his neighborhood, but finds it “unbelievable to me that I could see, even from afar, someone whose name appeared in the history books, a participant in events that had occurred 40 years before.” For Carlos, the Revolution, just one generation old, seems so ancient as to be irrelevant. He and his friends play in a courtyard with a secret passage that Cristeros (like those in his mother’s family) used during the Rebellion. “We thought this underground area was a vestige of some prehistoric era. Nevertheless the Cristero war was closer to us at that time than our infancy is to us now, ” he says. Wars and revolution seem part of another world. Yet for his parents “this was difficult . . . to believe, because their childhood, adolescence, and youth were spent against a background of constant battles and executions.” The question is, are the battles really over, or have they just moved into a new sphere?
In Carlos’s youth, President Alemán jump-started 20 years of rapid economic growth known as the “Mexican Miracle”—and also brought corruption into the heart of Mexican politics, something that Pacheco’s characters frequently discuss. As historian John W. Sherman says in his essay “The Mexican ‘Miracle’ and Its Collapse”:
Under Almena, Mexico pinned its economic hopes on a process of rapid industrialization. Largely financed through U.S. capital, this strategy made close ties to American business interests essential. Those ties, which had been disrupted earlier in the century by the Revolution . . . flourished anew in the postwar years.
The year that Carlos meets Mariana, an earthquake strikes and a comet appears. “It was said that these presaged an atomic war, the end of the world, or, at the very least, another revolution in Mexico,” he reports ambiguously. Instead of expanding upon this vision of revolution and apocalypse, the paragraph ends in pure prosaicism, telling how Carlos’s father sells his failing soap company, which couldn’t compete with American detergents, and becomes manager of the foreign company that bought him out. Something had indeed happened, just not the revolution they had envisioned. This time, leftists were co-opted, the middle class grew richer, and the “so-called Revolutionary government had ceased to be revolutionary,” according to historian Sherman. For some, Battles in the Desert suggests that as long as Mexico is financially and even culturally dependent on the United States, the Revolution has not succeeded, and Mexico isn’t really free.
In Mexico, the term malinchismo describes the tendency to view Mexican things as necessarily inferior to foreign things. (La Malinche was an indigenous Mexican who became Cortes’s mistress and enabled his conquest by translating for him; thus she is both the original traitor and the symbolic mother of the mixed-race mestizo people.) Malinchismo is related to the Mexican tendency to love American things but feel guilty about it, and in describing the postwar American influence on Mexico, Pacheco often hits with deadly accuracy: “Our parents got used to drinking jaibol [highballs], even though at first it had tasted to them like medicine. Tequila is prohibited in my house,” Carlos says. At Jim’s house, Carlos admires his American toys, their Sears furniture, and the concoction of processed foods that Mariana calls Flying Saucers.
Carlos’s family exemplifies the Miracle; when Carlos’s father owns the declining soap factory, they are part of the sliding middle class. Recognizing his future, the father goes to night school English classes and listens to records at home. “I know of no other adult who learned English in less than a year. Clearly, he had no choice,” observes Carlos. Yet once the now-bilingual father starts working for the international company, the entire family changes. Carlos now plays tennis at the Junior Club, while his older brother studies at the University of Chicago and his sisters move to Texas. The whole family plans to meet for Christmas at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Meanwhile, onetime classmate Rosales, whom Carlos had been scolded for calling “that Indian,” is reduced to selling gum on the buses Carlos rides. Subtly, insidiously, Carlos’s family becomes the elite that looks to the United States for guidance, while the indigenous Rosales slides ever deeper into poverty. Although Carlos’s father had once lectured him that in Mexico “we are all Indians,” he seems to have lost contact with that part of himself.
Even more than the Americanization, the book shows an English-ization of Mexico. We see the linguistic malinchismo everywhere from the mandatory English lessons at Carlos’s school and his father’s determined efforts to use the new words that have invaded the language: uasamara (what’s the matter), oquéi (okay), and sorry. Essayist Alfonso points out another facet of imperial English when he asks, “Why is Jim called Jim if he is the son of a politician who dedicated his life to the service of Mexico?”
However, no doubt inadvertently, Silver’s translation lessens the impact of encroaching English because we cannot see what words were in English in the original. When Mariana serves a snack of Flying Saucers, the name is still ridiculous, but not ridiculous and foreign. In the translation, it doesn’t stick out like the words Flying Saucers do in a page of Spanish. More serious is Silver’s changing of names. Are we to believe that Pacheco wrote a story about a Mexican boy named Arthur (not Arturo)? To make it worse, the same character is briefly mentioned as Arturo in Battles in the Desert. In this over-translated environment, the fact that another Mexican boy is named “Jim” obviously loses some of its jolt. (In fact, Jim’s real father is a Californian; his mother is the mistress of a rich Mexican official Jim calls his father.) Likewise, Silver changes place names; the Mexico City neighborhood known as Colonia Roma becomes the Roman Quarter. One almost expects to read that Jim’s father is from the bayside city of Saint Francis!4
For a generation identified in part by American influence, what is a Mexican? Different characters have different ideas. Carlos’s mother is from the conservative city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, and “She detested everyone who was not from Jalisco. She thought that all other Mexicans were foreigners and particularly loathed those from the capital. She hated the Roman Quarter because all the good families were beginning to move out and only Arabs, Jews, and Southerners—people from Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatan—were moving in.” Yet while Carlos’s mother sees all non-Jaliscans as foreigners, Carlos’s school is attended by all kinds of real “foreigners”: Toru, who spent the war in one of Mexico’s Japanese internment camps, as well as Arab and Jewish immigrants. A teacher warns the Arabs and Jews not to fight the battles of their old lands: “You were born here. You are as Mexican as your fellow students,” a sentiment obviously not shared by Carlos’s own mother.
III. The Battles: Historia
Despite all of Mexico’s historical battles, the title of Battles actually refers to nothing in Mexican history. Instead, the “battles in the desert” are a playground game, a sort of current-event-oriented “cowboys and Indians” based on the fighting between Jews and Arabs in the newly created state of Israel. Although these wars seem far removed from Mexico, what ties together Jews, Arabs, and Mexicans of the 1940s and 1950s is nationhood. In Palestine, Jews and Arabs sought independence, to be recognized by both their own citizens and the outer world. Mexico, in the throes of the Mexican Miracle, did as well. Today, with NAFTA, growing immigration, and ever-stronger American cultural influences, those questions are more vital than ever.
The Mexico of his childhood is, as Carlos says, finished, but history has a way of resurfacing, with the same battles being fought over and over again. In the end, we are left asking not only What is a Mexican? but also What is Mexico’s place among nations? Is the revolution over and Mexico independent? How do countries, and people, deal with history, and what is the connection between them?
These are Mexican questions, but obviously American ones as well. In a heterogeneous, multi-cultural society, continuously transformed by immigration, how do we define what an American is? How much influence from other countries can we afford? Will we ever heal the traumas of racism, slavery, and Jim Crow? Sometimes the best way to learn about ourselves is from reading a novel, the story of another. Perhaps, for nations, the same truth holds. If the past is a foreign country, historia can be your passport.
1Although this essay only concerns Pacheco’s fiction, he is also well known in Mexico as a poet and has published numerous collections of poetry.2Printed in the August/September issue of the Mexican journal Tierra Adentro, which focused on Pacheco. All translations from the journal are mine, and I take responsibility for any errors.3The last line of my Biblioteca Era Mexican edition has a slightly different final line: “If she were living today she would be eighty years old” (my translation). Apparently, when Pacheco revised the text in 1999 he updated her age to reflect the two decades that had passed since the original publication, thus keeping it chronologically “accurate” and in line with real history and reminiscence.4Unfortunately, this is not the only problem with the New Directions translation. There were several errors that should have been caught in the copyediting. In another example, when Carlos uses the words of an old song to describe his feelings for Mariana, in the original text they are not delimited, making us see that love is so new to him that the only words that truly express his feelings are hackneyed lyrics. They have become his own thoughts. In the translation, however, the words are set off as lyrics and do not seem to come from inside the boy’s own head. -  

cover image for
José Emilio Pacheco, Selected Poems of PachecoNew Directions, 1987.     read it at Google Books 

José Emilio Pacheco’s Selected Poems is the first major retrospective gathering to appear in an English-Spanish bilingual format of the work of one of Mexico’s foremost writers. Born in 1939, his talent was recognized early, and while still in his twenties he was already keeping company with the great Spanish-speaking poets of Latin America. A prolific poet and a perfectionist, Pacheco has since 1962 published seven volumes of poetry, including the National Poetry Prize-winning No me preguntes como pasa el tiempo (Don’t Ask Me How the Time Goes By) in 1969. Tarde o temprano, collected poems of 1958 to 1980, contains the revisions on which the translations in the present volume are based. The Selected Poems is edited by George McWhirter of The University of British Columbia, who worked closely with Pacheco himself in choosing the poems and their English translations. Besides McWhirter’s own versions are those by Thomas Hoeksema, Alastair Reid, and Linda Scheer, as well as Edward Dorn and Gordon Brotherston, Katherine Silver, and Elizabeth Umlas. Affirming the poet’s stature, McWhirter writes: "In his singularity of vision and multiplicity of poetic forms, traditional and modern, José Emillo Pacheco spans past and present in both Latin American and peninsular Spanish poetry. It is a glittering and giant technical achievement, as brilliant and instantly visible as Hart Crane’s The Bridge."

For José Emilio Pacheco time is the agent of universal destruction, and history—the passage of ruins... Pacheco exalts the triumph of nature over culture, but in exalting it, doesn't he transfigure it, changing it into the word, or—as he puts it—into 'fleeting music, the counterpoint of wind and water'? —Octavio Paz                     

Mike Heppner's novels offer a plethora of pleasures—rich local color, gonzo riffs on pop culture, characters whose sangfroid can mask a sophisticated silliness, equal helpings of Gass-like profundity and Elkin-esque vulgarity, and an appreciation how fringe the most American of American lives often are—but their “so much” never balloons into “too much”

We Came All This Way

Mike Heppner, We Came All This Way, Thought Catalog Books, 2015.                excerpt
Click here to read the first two chapters


We Came All This Way is the first novel in eight years from the author whom Entertainment Weekly calls ‘… a fearsome cultural critic disguised in a novelist’s clothing,’ and the Washington Post calls ‘… a young master of this old art.’ It’s the story of Roseanne Okerfeldt, a thirty-one year old mother of four who finds her life in Grand Rapids, Michigan stultifying, and runs off with her brother and eldest child to live on a decommissioned oil rig in the middle of the North Atlantic.
There, Roseanne and the thirty-seven other residents of ‘Mobility’ (as they call their new home) struggle against the elements and their own basic oddness to establish an independent society based on utopian principles of cooperation and self-sufficiency. As the months pass, the pressure increases on Roseanne to return to Michigan and confront her former life, while Mobility itself—with its delicate balance of extreme personalities—splinters toward chaos.
Roseanne tells her own story in a comic, aware, and self-deprecating voice, starting with her childhood in suburban Ohio, her early marriage and pregnancies, and her experiences on Mobility, which involve pirate attacks, the vague omens of a Belgian soothsayer, and a man with blue skin. We Came All This Way is about finding a place in the world and trying to grow up before your kids do.”

Welcome to nowhere.
We are a loose collection of individuals who have made a choice and come to this place. Some of us are related by blood, others by circumstance. Our numbers were once thirty-eight and now they are ten.
We live on a manmade island located fourteen nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Our President is Wallis Crim, 34, born and raised in Milner, Ohio. My name is Roseanne Okerfeldt, President Crim’s personal assistant. I’m also his sister. I’m thirty-one, separated, with four children. The twins, Mary and Connor, live with their father along with their older brother Vance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Star has chosen to stay with us on the island. Other full-time residents are as follows:
Dr. Emmanuelle Snow, 35, medical advisor and Head of Surgery. Dr. Snow also has an eight-month-old son, Sander, who was born on the island.
Dr. Clement Snow, 73, technical advisor.
Charity Blaise, DDS, 41, Head of Dentistry and Dr. Clement Snow’s second wife.
Stephanie (“Steffi”) Blaise, 12, child of Dr. Blaise’s first marriage.
Neil Laporte, c. 40, cook and fisherman.
Gavin Baptiste, 48, Head of Security.
Together we are citizens of the Independent Island Nation of “Mobility,” which is also the name of a wheelchair manufacturer in Moline, Illinois.

“Short stories are gems. Novels, however,” according to one of my favorite creative writing teachers, “are big bags.” Mike Heppner’s work both affirms and challenges this judgement. For while Mike’s novels are capacious, and even though their contours may be occasionally lumpy, they are anything but prone to shapelessness. His latest book, We Came All This Way, is a fine example of how well he understands what novels can hold, as well as how big-hearted his acceptance of the form’s limitations are. Mike’s novels offer a plethora of pleasures—rich local color, gonzo riffs on pop culture, characters whose sangfroid can mask a sophisticated silliness, equal helpings of Gass-like profundity and Elkin-esque vulgarity, and an appreciation how fringe the most American of American lives often are—but their “so much” never balloons into “too much.” His responses to my always-more-than-can-manage questions below are characteristically unassuming. Fish around in their crannies and explore their seams, however, and, just as with Mike’s fiction, you’ll find that his comments re-define your expectations more than they conform to them.
— JM

1) How did the character of Rosie Okerfeldt (nee Crim) first introduce herself to you?
As a voice. Especially when you’re writing in first person, it’s often what comes first. In my mind, I heard a woman telling me what her life was like growing up in Ohio, and I just followed her voice. As I came to know her a little better, I found her to be “a tough cookie,” like many women I’ve known. She’s smart but pretends not to be; she sometimes makes questionable choices, but there’s an odd bravery to them. I tried not to decide too much about her ahead of time, but to make her acquaintance gradually, the way you would with a real person. Writing requires good listening skills. You don’t want to impose too much upon your characters, or at least I don’t. When I started writing the book, my daughter was only a few months old, and so I was thinking a lot about the peculiar exhaustion that often accompanies that time. Inevitably your characters wind up being a reflection of your own strengths and weaknesses.
2) This novel participates in a long and distinguished tradition in which utopian schemes are viewed with great skepticism. What, in your opinion, is the worst way in which a utopia might go wrong?
I’m not the person to offer a particularly erudite response, but I will say that social movements sometimes go wrong when they become too expansionist in their goals. In that sense, I think the people of Mobility had the right idea. Our mutual friend, Joseph McElroy, turned me onto Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher, which has something to say about this.
3) There’s a great deal, and a great variety, of humor in We Came All This Way. There is the book’s pointed satire, of course, but there are also moments of near-slapstick as well as observations that, in their bemused resignation, would not feel that out of place in Lake Wobegon. What, as you see it, is the role of humor in so-called “serious fiction”?
I thought a lot about Vonnegut while I was writing the book, particularly the second half, once the characters reach Mobility. Sometimes when I wondered if I was being too broad or straying too far from “reality,” I would ask myself whether or not Vonnegut would care. Often we look to older writers for permission to push ourselves a little. To the extent that serious fiction seeks to be all-encompassing, humor is a big part of capturing the fullness of life. That said, I tend to believe that in writing, humor just happens. I don’t think I ever write to emphasize the humor in a scene. I try to be mindful of my characters and how they might plausibly act in a given situation, and whatever humor might come out of that is a welcome bonus. As a part-Scandinavian, humorlessness is my default mode (though it’s the same humorlessness that forms the crux of Scandinavian humor).
4) Little more than midway through We Came All This Way, Rosie admits: “I didn’t want to face the consequences of my actions. The consequences of my actions were bullshit.” This seems, to me anyway, like one of the most genuine moments of grace in the entire book, as so many of the other individuals populating Mobility appear incapable of such an epiphany, even one that doesn’t really generate much in the way of “character development.” (I mean only that Rosie’s subsequent actions and choices appear to be influenced little by her admission / anti-confession.) Are epiphanies functional in the world of this novel, are they just drastically curtailed, or is all they can accomplish just a multiplication of the bullshit?
There’s a certain shared insanity that sets in as the novel goes on, which might upset the chances of anything as rational as an epiphany taking place. If I have a preferred narrative structure, it might be that of order into chaos; an incremental loss of propriety, which is sometimes reflected in the writing itself. My novels start out in business suits and wind up in torn and bloodied togas. I find myself writing a lot of argument scenes. Though I don’t like arguing in real life, I admire the shape of an argument on the page, the way talking points gradually give way to brute, almost pre-verbal expression.
5) We Came All This Way is also the story of one writer’s growth, and of one writer’s attempt to cope with the crises that come with realizing that one has become, of all things, a writer. One of my very favorite scenes in the novel in this regard comes near the very end, and involves Rosie and her single-volume edition of the OED. But does the end of this novel coincide with the end of Rosie’s life as a writer?
I think Rosie is writing for a specific purpose, to tell her side of the story. The novel takes the form of a mea culpa, but it’s a mea culpa on Rosie’s terms. She knows she needs to acknowledge her wrong-doings—primarily the abandonment of her three infant children—in order to rehabilitate herself in the public eye, but at the same time she wants people to understand that she felt pushed into doing what she did, and the pressures that caused her to leave her family could’ve been alleviated had other people been more understanding. As a confession, it’s fairly skin-deep; she’s making a flimsy gesture in order to get herself out of a jam. That’s her purpose in writing, and a somewhat sketchy one: to gain full forgiveness while avoiding full responsibility. Once she’s divested herself of that need, I’m not so sure the impulse for her to write would survive—thus the scene at the end with the OED.
6) Among all of the “big subjects” We Came All This Way addresses, would you agree or disagree that class is one of them?
I hadn’t quite thought of that. The Egg Code notwithstanding, I tend to avoid big subjects in my fiction, or at least I try to avoid being overly aware of them as I’m writing. Class is certainly an issue in the sense that being independently wealthy allows Dr. Clement Snow (the founder of Mobility) the leisure to develop his social theories and the capital to put those theories into action. There’s also a certain class stratification that occurs in the book’s fourth and final part, by which point so many people have left the island that each social “class” essentially consists of one member. (Vonnegut again, Galapagos in particular.) So I think you’re right. For me, “theme” often comes late in the process—it’s rarely a starting point.
7) If you could make one choice for Rosie’s daughter Star, what would that be?
At least to get more direct input than what she’s receiving from her mother. Rosie has a lot of positive things to offer her daughter, but those things need context, balance, other perspectives. It’s possible Star won’t receive enough of those other perspectives if she remains where she is.
8) Place, and associated (but not always commensurate) notions of home make themselves felt acutely in this novel. What attracted you to the brand name-studded Ohio of Rosie’s child- and young adulthood?
I grew up in Michigan, near Detroit. My mom still lives there, and I drive across northern Ohio three or four times a year when I go out to visit her (I don’t like to fly). I know the I-80/90 corridor pretty well. Ohio is a place I pass through, which certainly doesn’t qualify me to write about it. I think I do understand the Midwest a bit—I wanted Rosie to grow up in a place I had a rough cultural and geographical familiarity with, but wasn’t too close to home. Over-familiarity can be distracting to a fiction writer. In fact, Rosie’s hometown, Milner, is made-up, though I imagined it to be somewhere just south of Cleveland. As far as “brand name-studded” goes, I’ve long had a fantasy of actually living in a shopping mall. I’ve been massaging an idea for a long novel set entirely in a shopping mall, with each chapter centered around a different store. So: chapter one, “Pottery Barn.” Chapter two, “Art of Shaving.” I don’t know if I’ll ever actually write it. I suppose I’ve just given it away. I’m interested in the ersatz, the faux, the value neutral—I think it must have something to do with being morbidly inclined, like many Swedes. I like the smell of hotels. Signage. You know what I’m talking about.
9) Your career as a novelist essentially spans the last decade and a half. And your first novel, The Egg Code (2002) was one of the first literary documents I can recall reading which attempted a genuine engagement with the ways in which the Internet—not nearly as instantaneous and social in its textures then as it is now—is transforming our experience of both our world and our own humanity. I find, for lack of a better summation, more machinery than metaphor in how the phenomena of online existence are treated in We Came All This Way. How has your own relationship to the Internet adjusted and grown over the course of your writing life?
I like your phrase, “more machinery than metaphor,” and I think it suggests something about the way we evolve over time. As we get older, life itself becomes more machinery than metaphor. When we’re young, there’s a tendency to over-experience everything; to perceive connections, draw parallels, inflate the mundane and material to the rarefied level of metaphor. That’s what’s great about being young. When we’re twenty-five (my age when I started writing The Egg Code) the Internet is not only a metaphor for American society at the turn of the millennium, but also the fragmentation of our own individual consciousnesses. When we’re forty-two (my age now) the Internet is a way to pay our doctor’s bills online. But that’s also what’s great about being middle-aged! The Egg Code wasn’t widely read when it first came out, but I do think it retains some value as a snapshot of where our national discourse was located in the months before 9/11. Not my intention at the time, obviously.

10) All through my reading, I wondered particularly about Rosie’s brother, Wallis. I mean, I could not make up my mind about him. Rosie thinks the world of him, and cuts him no end of slack, but I’m less enamored of him. Perhaps because I’m concerned that there’s something unhealthy in Rosie’s constant re-validation of his genius and purity of intention. And then I wonder if Wallis isn’t the one of Rosie’s “victims” who suffers the most, if her worship hasn’t warped him, or at least paralyzed in some manner not utterly unlike the car accident that has confined him to wheelchair. If there were one more “Wallis and Rosie” scene you could write for We Came All This Way, what might that scene entail?
I share your feelings about Wallis. I always found him to be an enigma—we never really get all that close to him—but whenever I tried being a bit more emotionally forthright about him on the page, it rang false. I ultimately decided to embrace those reserved qualities as being true to his character. There are people who rarely disclose their feelings, even to their closest relatives. Rosie asserts that Wallis is the most important person in her life, but what she values in him is largely a projection borne out of her own shortcomings. Their actual conversations tend to be about trivial things, like suntan lotion. I suppose an additional scene might’ve involved Rosie and Wallis engaging with each other in a more candid fashion, but it just didn’t feel in character for either one of them. I think it’s fair to test your characters, but when they continue to resist what you throw at them, sometimes you just need to let them win. By the way, I don’t think of that as being a dereliction of a writer’s duties—it’s just being a good listener. - Joe Milazzo 

TC Site

Mike Heppner, This Can Be Easy or Hard, Thought Catalog, 2014.              read it at Google Books

This collection of five stories and four essays showcases the work of Mike Heppner, the writer whom Entertainment Weekly calls, "A fearsome cultural critic disguised in a novelist's clothing," and whose funny and biting fiction has been praised in Esquire, The Washington Post, and The Millions. Most of these pieces have not been published before. Featured performers include: a deluded Lothario, a man obsessed with corn, Charlie Watts, the dude from Def Leppard, and a sweet old lady who meets her untimely end at a Boston Market.

"Heppner does a very rare thing – he captures delicate human moments without being precious. Floating like dust in afternoon sunlight, his scenes are illuminated bits of life made strangely beautiful and poignant by his storytelling. Bound together by self-effacing humor, his work is deeply-affecting and well-observed. This collection of short stories murders everything but the undeniable throb of life and love." —Zaron Burnett III

Mike Heppner, NadaKindle Singles, 2013.

In this darkly funny and often unsettling novella, Mike Heppner ("The Egg Code," "Pike's Folly," "The Man Talking Project") introduces readers to Nada Zilch, a social omnivore and reality TV star with a taste for staying up all night and pushing people's buttons. Always the loudest, smartest voice in the room, Nada has chosen her victim for the night: Billy Gallagher, an NYU professor who is struggling to put his own excesses behind him. What starts out as a business proposition between two strangers quickly evolves into a cackling ride through Manhattan at night, where the laughs are all fake, the drinks are all paid for, and the buzz and the hangover merge into violence at first light.

"In 'Nada,' a fever dream of a story, Mike Heppner writes with both humor and a no-holds-barred authority about one crazy, booze- and drugs-fueled night in lower Manhattan. It's a fantastic, utterly compelling read; I dare you to put it down."- Mako Yoshikawa

"Heppner is a fearsome cultural critic disguised in a novelist's clothing.- Entertainment Weekly

"Mike Heppner could well be the only novelist working in the postmodern style who consciously strives for accessibility and comparative ease of understanding."- Peter Quinones

"Mike Heppner [is] surely one of the most interesting young writers out there."- Gary Fisketjon

Lo, the tortured life of the creative writing professor at NYU! Doomed to teach (albeit on the tenure track), forced to “sell out” (by exploring the possibility of working with indie film starlets), and cursed to spend time with 19-year-olds (in order to sleep with them), Billy, the protagonist of Mike Heppner’s Kindle Single “Nada” is truly adrift in New York. Quietly resigned to the banality of academia after an initial burst of glamour, he is caught in the orbit of the titular Nada -- the aforementioned indie film starlet, and a shallow, destructive fraud -- for a scant 18 hours, with increasingly distressing returns.
Seemingly taking cues from the earlier works of Bret Easton Ellis, Heppner’s tale alternates seamlessly between hypnotically mundane and fever-induced nightmare. It’s enough to make a reader wonder if he intentionally chose a name close to the insane title character of Andre Breton’s surrealism-defining tome “Nadja”.
To underscore its nihilism, “Nada” has some late-breaking, unearned dramatics, but it is otherwise a fascinating (if somewhat depressing) work. Billy may be the type who can’t write, and thus, as the saying goes, teaches, but Heppner is clearly the type who can, and does -- beautifully. - Leah E. Friedman

Mike Heppner, The Man Talking Project, Another Sky Press, 2012.
EPUB - full novel

Triumphs and failures of life as a writer turn tangible in this four-sided fiction. A ten-year-old boy’s father lectures on the folly of taking a teacher’s praise to heart. A writer details the dreamlike landing of a two-novel deal, and the feeling of abandonment when his publisher is too governed by the bottom line to take risks on later novels. A successful writer counsels a beginner so anxious to write something worthwhile that she’s dying from lack of sleep. With honest, precise prose and indelible characters, these and other narratives within The Man Talking Project flesh out what inspires, torments, and sometimes kills the devoted artist.

Mike Heppner’s accomplishment goes beyond his first two Knopf novels into the new and challenged no-man’s and everyone’s land of American publishing. A brave achievement.- Joseph McElroy

An artful examination of modern life, and modern love, with perfect dialogue, wry humor, (and) psychological insight.- Neil Peart

The most interesting work of new fiction I’ve read this year… Word for word, sentence for sentence, these novellas come closer to rendering what it’s like to live right now than most anything else out there.- Joshua Furst

A brilliant piece of writing… innovative, interesting and absorbing…- Clare Dudman

…rich and complex, keeping the reader thinking about the story long after the last line. Heppner weaves a kaleidoscopic narrative of varying voices, mirroring perfectly the complex dynamic that connects each person within the inextricable tangle of family and human relationships.-The Chapbook Review

Mike Heppner, Pike's Folly, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; Vintage 2007.

Nathaniel Pike, a headstrong billionaire, is purchasing a piece of federal land in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and turning it into a huge, inaccessible parking lot. Orbiting Pike and his aspirations is a cast of perfectly flawed eccentrics: Marlene, who is shy and vulnerable but also a budding exhibitionist; Stuart, Pike’s assistant, who is Marlene’s husband and a failed writer; and Heath, who films Marlene’s public nudity and turns her into an Internet star. In this grand tale of the folly of the modern world, Mike Heppner skewers the extravagance of wealth, and the class that grows up around that wealth, even as he casts a humane look at the people involved.

An indictment of wasteful American capitalism, a satire of political correctness, an exploration of America's guilt for unspeakable slavery-era crimes—Heppner's second novel (following The Egg Code, 2002) is all of this, sometimes exhilaratingly, sometimes wearyingly. Hugely wealthy, 40-something Rhode Islander Nathanial Pike, throws quixotic millions at frivolous projects. His latest: buying and paving over a beautiful tract of New Hampshire wilderness to erect a mountaintop Kmart. While Pike's flailing novelist-secretary Stuart suffers writer's block, Stuart's wife, Marlene, battles an increasingly uncontrollable urge to strip in public. Meanwhile, Greg Reese, a fellow Rhode Island moneybags, is unhappily bound to his family's dubiously conceived philanthropic foundation; its secret raison d'etre is family guilt over the sexual abuse and mass-murder of dozens of slaves (whose bodies are unearthed on property Pike previously owned). Surprising connections come to light as the FBI and a hoard of activists work to publicly discredit Pike, and Reese's wayward daughter (a budding filmmaker) and her boyfriend (an obsessive fan of Beach Boy Brian Wilson) struggle to understand the powers and evils of wealth. When all of these disparate parties finally clash in Pike's new parking lot, the hero is both obvious and unlikely. Though the competing plot lines overwhelm the story, Heppner's prose is ax sharp, and he fells a great many American demons in putting forth his haunting and redemptive vision of New England's past and present. - Publishers Weekly

Self-made Rhode Islander Nathaniel Pike, as eccentric as he is rich, buys a piece of federal land in New Hampshire's White Mountains and builds a parking lot on it--an intentionally utterly useless endeavor dubbed the Independence Project--then adds a fully staffed and stocked Kmart. Meanwhile, his counterpart--Gregg Reese, from old money--is managing his family's philanthropic funds so badly that he seeks a state subsidy. Pike's personal assistant is Stuart Breen, author of one literary novel, whose wife Maureen's compulsion to be naked leads to her arrest for public indecency. As in The Egg Code (2002), Heppner takes on modern culture with its pretension and hypocrisy, from art critics who take the Independence Project seriously to wasting money honestly earned versus giving money from an evil source to charity. But with characters you hardly care about and pedestrian prose, this is better commentary than fiction. - Michele Leber

            On the first page of Mike Heppner’s second novel, Pike’s Folly, we’re introduced to the “excitable man”, Rhode Island tycoon Nathaniel Pike.  Pike employs what could be eitheralert pragmatism, intentional shiftiness, or downright sleaze depending upon your perspective.  He finishes a sentence with “…and I say that to you as a fellow Republican.”  Informed that his partner in conversation isn’t a Republican, he quickly shifts course with “Oh.  Then I say that to you as a fellow Democrat.”  This is perhaps a nod to the Joseph Heller of Good as Gold.  Indeed, a few pages further in, we learnt that another character with attachments to Pike is reading Heller.  This is an interesting technique, both acknowledging the master and having the character acknowledge them at the same time, and it immediately activated my radar to be on the lookout for more of it (which I believe we see, later on, in regards to both Phillip Roth and Richard Yates).  This is just one of the numerous, rich multi layerings that Heppner employs, with the result that the novel is infinitely flexible to many different readings and interpretations.  Just as there are kinds of writers, so there are kinds of readers, and there’s something for everyone in Pike’s Folly.  Roland Barthes once wrote a 150 page book about a story of Balzac’s that’s just thirty pages long, and I can easily imagine this new novel by Heppner accommodating such a project.  The book is highly enjoyable precisely because it could be read simply at face value, as entertainment, or analyzed in great depth in the jargon and manner of the many “-ism’s” of theory.
            Pike is the focal point around which a very funny, interesting, and recognizable human cast of personalities revolve, scheme, maneuver, and jockey for position.  Enormously wealthy, Pike seems to undertake mammoth development projects for no reason, with no purpose whatsoever.  Here, he build a K Mart in the boondocks of nowhere, the New Hampshire wilderness.  His opportunistic assistant is a novelist named Stuart Breen who has published one novel and is having a hard time getting a second off the ground.  Stuart’s wife Marlene is an opportunistic exhibitionist whose cravings to be seen naked in public are rapidly becoming less and less controllable.
            The other significant moneybags in the state – and, by the way, the local color and flavor of Rhode Island are communicated with great nuance and skill – is Greg Reese, whose old money family (really old – centuries old) is the force behind the charitable Reese Foundation, where all is not as smooth as it seems.  Reese’s daughter, Allison, is sliding between various forms of recreational drugs while her boyfriend, heath, aspires to filmmaking and has a special affinity for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the unfinished masterpiece Smile.
            Around these six main characters Heppner builds an apologue that’s amusing, serious, satirical, and observing.  Many interesting supporting players buzz around the principal six like mosquitoes, trying to influence the course of events as much as they can and, interesting as the main players are, the others often stand out a little more vividly.  There’s Henry Savage, a Washington hack who meditates, in a hilariously self pitying moment, that men and women of the US Government agencies aren’t “evil automatons with computer chips planted in their brains”; Celia Shriver, who, at sixty seven, still displays her enthusiasm for political rallies and who has one planned for Pike, calling him a “canker sore” ; an unnamed counter girl in Dunkin Donuts who gets exasperated about giving a lost traveler some directions; and quite a few others.  Very much a colorful human landscape – the ensemble of players suggests the analogy of a master drummer playing virtuoso fills between the other instruments in the group.
            Significant parts of this novel are concerned with the cinema (Heath Baxter is an aspiring auteur, and Pike had film production in his past) and, as he did with Joseph Heller, Heppner demonstrates that he himself is as versed in the subject as his characters are.  Besides a voluminous knowledge of movies, the author has an ability to do what screenwriters are supposed to do – show, don’t tell.  That is, make word pictures that ring true in the reader’s mind.  I’ll cite just one resonant example among many.  Stuart and Marlene are having an argument: “Both she and Stuart were standing with their fists balled, their foreheads almost touching.”  While I was reading Heppner I was concurrently reading a novel by Theodore Dreiser and I was amazed at the contrast in styles, how Heppner could say in one sentence what it would take Dreiser three ponderous pages to get to, and not only that – though Heppner’s story is greatly concerned with politics in various ways, it’s never preachy or sermonizing.  A character began her political career in DC but she was “way too raw and unabashedly partisan to make it inside the Beltway, where nothing ever happened without compromise.”  Again, I smiled at how, in Drieser, this simple truth would never even be acknowledged; politics would be presented as a fight to death, with definite winners and losers.  What a contrast!
            Another major subject the novel takes up, as is natural in our times, is the nature of the internet and how it’s changed and affected all of our lives.  It does this in two important scenes, both humorous – first, when Marlene becomes a “celebrity” on a website devoted to streakers and nudists, and, second, when Heath does an online, real time interview with fans after he moves to LA, towards the end of the novel.  Anyone can draw their own conclusions as to what Heppner means to imply about the nature of the web and its impact on the culture, but what I thought of immediately is how these ultra modern, up to the minute examinations of life right now contrast with the brief scenes in the novel that describe events of hundreds of years ago, scenes that gradually fill us in on some horrible events of the past, and what is common and similar in the lives of those colonial peoples with our own contemporary existence.  The DNA, if you like, hasn’t changed.
            For purposes of easy identification I’ll try to point out some of the themes and issues the novel as a whole takes up, and sort out which character or characters are involved in each.  This list is not supposed to be exhaustive or final, but rather a starting point for anyone interested in looking at this most absorbing book in some level of detail.  I  noticed: the nature of democracy and the political process (Celia Shriver, Cathy Diego, Allison Reese and others want to organize a huge anti-Pike demonstration; numerous members of the Rhode Island lawmaking contingent owe Pike money; Henry Savage is a Washington lifer); the saga of a family’s skeletons in the closet, family history (the Reeses); the nature of the contrast of appearances and reality (all is  not quite what it seems with Pike, as well as with the Reeses, as well as with a certain house that stands at the apex of the tale; Marlene is at her core being not at all what she appears to be); the relationship between a mentor and a mentee (Brian Wilson to Heath; Pike to Heath; and Heath to Stuart); issues of what does and does not constitute a successful relationship (Heath and Allsion; Marlene and Stuart; Carla Marshall and Bill); the usefulness of artists sharing ideas on the artistic process (Heath, Brian Wilson, the French chef Lucien; even Heath and Marlene in a weird kind of director-actor relationship); the tortured genius (Brian Wilson; Heath, marginally).  These are all worthy angles.
            Before concluding: a point for the literary theorists among us who might be hungering for a little indulgence in structuralism or deconstruction.  In the opening scene Nathaniel Pike observes: “If I were a fruit, I’d be a banana.”  Interestingly, somewhere within the next fifty pages another character is also compared to a banana.  What’s the point?  What’s the symbolism of the banana?  How is it used as a metaphor to tie one character to another?  Granted, not everyone is interested in this kind of self indulgent exercise – but for those who are, it may well bear fruit!
            Pike’s Folly is impressive – sharply observant, daring, not afraid to tackle large and relevant questions, and entertaining too! - Peter Quinones


Mike Heppner, The Egg Code, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002; Vintage 2003.

Olden Field is a solitary computer hacker, whose ultimate purpose is the destruction of the Gloria 21169, a monstrous router that has taken control of the Internet. Motivational speaker Derek Skye finds himself sickened by the advice he spews to his legions of fans. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Donna fabricates folklore to assist those looking for guidance in our troubled times. Her friend Lydia Mould-Tree is determined to see her talentless son, Simon, achieve celebrity, so she bullies her complacent husband into getting Simon his big break in a company advertising campaign.
As only the most accomplished fiction can, The Egg Code brings them together with a host of others in a sweeping, comic, wildly entertaining narrative. In this audacious literary debut, Mike Heppner concocts a brilliantly realized, impeccably structured mediation on the value of information in our information-saturated time.

A debut of remarkable depth and complexity, Mike Heppner's The Egg Code explores the influence of media and technology on a Midwestern community. The book's vast, nonlinear narrative investigates the lives of a handful of individuals with loose ties to a mysterious network management company called The Gloria Corporation. Gloria murdered the father of hyper-egotistical housewife Lydia Tree, manipulating her mother, expert cryptologist Kay Tree, into leaving her hometown to assist the developing company. Stuck in a dying marriage, Lydia's fortysomething friend Donna Skye remains devoted to her husband Derek, an author and motivational speaker on the brink of psychological collapse. Derek, a former Gloria employee, finds a friend in 24-year-old Scarlet, a sweet if hopelessly naïve disciple of his "easy steps" self-help philosophy. Scarlet's new boyfriend, Olden Field, is a self-proclaimed revolutionary who manages eggcode.com, a Web site devoted to spreading misinformation. As Olden's practices attract the attention of Gloria, his ad-exec friend Gray Hollows encounters legal trouble over a vaguely sexual ad campaign involving Lydia's son.
Though often as sprawling as they sound, these loosely connected narratives each reveal an aspect of communication's harmful effect on culture. Of particular interest to Heppner is the tragedy that results from the popularized belief in the potential for success without effort. The book's intertwining narratives and darkly humorous view of middle-class America recall the work of writer and film director Todd Solondz. Heppner, however, shows compassion and restraint in his albeit bleak assessment, rare qualities that help make The Egg Code a valuable, through difficult, work. - Ross Doll      

Heppner's bumptiously clever debut novel revolves around a vague premise: the Internet has been taken over, or even formed, by one business: the Gloria Corporation. In an oblique way, Gloria affects the interwoven fortunes of an odd set of characters who live close to each other in Big Dipper Township. Lydia Tree, an outrageously aggressive woman trying to hustle her intellectually underachieving son, Simon, into a stage and screen career, is the daughter of Kay Tree, a cryptanalyst who tracked Gloria for the Defense Department. Steve Mould, Lydia's husband, is not up-and-coming enough for his wife, until he gets Simon a spot on the advertisements for the chain that owns the furniture store he manages. These lewdly suggestive advertisements are merely a ploy by their creator, Gray Hollows, to provoke his boss into firing him. Gray's friend, Olden Field, meanwhile, is producing a factoid site, Eggcode.com, in order to flood the Web with disinformation. Lydia, in a typically manic moment, has entrusted Olden with pictures of Simon for a bogus Net-driven celebrity campaign, and Olden misuses them for his site. Eggcode's pics of Simon eventually backfire on Gray's ad campaign, resulting in a concatenation of disasters: Gray's ardently longed-for firing, Steve's dismissal from his company, Lydia and Steve's divorce and Olden's arrest. Meanwhile, Lydia's friend, Donna Skye, the daughter of an old German code man who knows all about Gloria, is undergoing a shaky divorce from her husband, Derek, America's premier motivational speaker, who was sponsored by Gloria until he lost his faith. Heppner resembles the movie director Paul Thomas Anderson more than he resembles any fellow writer like Anderson's Magnolia, this novel operates on multiple levels, alternating among an evidently empathetic intelligence, an uncommon comic brio and outrageously sophomoric symbolism. - Publishers Weekly

"Eingesteckt" (short story); DTV (Munich), October 2000, reprinted 2008
"Boston Market" (short story); Bold Type, June 2002
Various Short Essays; Die Welt (Berlin); 2002-2004
"Marlene's Detour" (excerpt from Pike's Folly); Nerve, April 2006
"Untitled" (short story); Esquire.com, February 2007
"Rewind" (short story); Nerve, May 2007
"Sleeping Together" (short story); Small Anchor Press, September 2007
Talking Man (novella); Small Anchor Press, September 2008
"Taking It to the Streets: My Year in Guerrilla Publishing" (essay); Poets & Writers, Sept./Oct. 2009
Talking (non-fiction); Wild Rag, Oct. 2010
"The Courage of Joseph McElroy" (essay); Golden Handcuffs Review, Winter - Spring 2011
"Untitled" (short story); The New Guard, 2011
"On Preparations for Search: Joseph McElroy's Noir-core" (essay); Dzanc Books, 2012

"Generic Metal Titan"  (short film co-written with Timothy Naylor); 1996

Interview with Matt Lee, Hour Magazine, March 2003

I read on the Internet that The Egg Code was actually the thesis for your M.F.A. at Columbia.
Which isn't true.  [Laughs.]  That proves my point about the Internet.  Actually, my thesis was some short stories.  At that point, The Egg Code was a lot longer than it wound up being.  But it was something that I worked on during the time that I was at Columbia.
Fiction writers are divided as to the merit of university creative writing programs.  After going through one of the more prestigious programs, what's your take?
[My experience at Columbia was fantastic, but] there's some validity to the stereotype--the phrase is, "writing that's workshopped to death"--where you sort of overthink all of the possible things that could be wrong about a piece of writing and you don't think about what's right about it, and you end up with something that's sort of criticism proof but also ends up being uninteresting.
Well, creative writing program or not, it didn't seem that you held much back in The Egg Code.  Does that have to do with being a first-time novelist?
Yeah, absolutely.  Because you don't write thinking it's going to be published.  You want it to be published, but when I started writing that book I was still living in Detroit; I was working at Wayne State.  I was making $8 an hour and I was writing at night.  I guess the reason why the book is so opinionated was just this feeling of, whether the book gets published or not, whether anyone reads it, I'm going to say what I think, and I'm just going to get it out there.  There's a real desperation, I think, writing a first-time novel.  It's something that stews inside you for your entire life up to that point.
Speaking of which, you grew up in Grosse Pointe.  How has that played into your writing?
Well, I've written about it.  When I was younger, and the experience of growing up in Grosse Pointe was a little bit closer to me, I wrote about it more often.  But the whole Crane City thing [in The Egg Code] was just another word for Detroit and its metropolitan area.  I didn't call it Detroit because I didn't want people to be thinking quite so literally.  You know, I didn't want it to be limited to Detroit.  And yet, there's a lot of areas--like there's a town called Hedgemont Heights in the book that I always thought of as being the Grosse Pointe equivalent.  Living in Grosse Pointe, I had the privilege of a really excellent public school education, which is definitely a dying quality in our country now.  I had a really strenuous education.
What do you think you'd be doing right now if The Egg Code hadn't found a publisher?
Oh, man, I don't really want to think about it.  People always say, "If you're going into the arts you should have something to fall back on," and I always tell them that you might as well cut to the chase and give up now, because you can't have that attitude.  You have to be willing to have your life be totally ruined if this doesn't pan out.  And I just don't think it's possible, for something this difficult to succeed in, to split your focus.  I mean, this has got to be it.  It's either this or walk the plank.

Author Q&A, Borzoi Reader, March 2006
Entertainment Weekly has written that you're a "fearsome cultural critic disguised in a novelist's clothes."  One could argue the truth of this statement is borne out in Pike's Folly, namely with its descriptions of younger characters like Stuart, Marlene, Allison, and Heath.  What are you trying to say (if anything) about the twenty- and thirty-somethings of today?
I don't think of these characters as archetypal or emblematic in any way, and I'm reluctant to tell people what constitutes their collective identity.  To be honest with you, I have such little contact with anyone other than my immediate family that I'm the last person to answer this.  Generally speaking, I think one's twenties are a time to experiment and make mistakes.  Obviously some mistakes are worse than others, but when you're young, you at least have the benefit of being able to recover from a vast majority of those mistakes.  I'm thirty-three now, and I feel my mistake-making days are over.  I guess you could say that the character of Allison is exploring life a little and screwing up a lot, and while all that seems traumatic at the time, there's nothing particularly wrong with it.  She's more together than I was at her age.  Heath is in that phase too, though I think he's less likely to grow out of it.  Stuart and Marlene, being a bit older, have a more defined sense of who they are, for what that's worth--probably not much.
Do you miss being in your twenties?
No, I like the age I am now.  You have to get excited about getting older.  I'm not looking forward to rotting away someday, but I don't need to be twenty-one again.
I've heard that true Providence history inspired much of the book.  Is there a real life counterpart to the farmhouse where the Reese family crimes of yore were played out?  Is there anything else that matches up to real events in history?
No counterpart to the farmhouse that I'm aware of.  The brief chapters that take place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are all "drawn from fact."  I've tried being accurate with my contemporary references to Rhode Island society and politics.  But most of the book is a fable.
So why Rhode Island?
I was born there and moved to Michigan with my mom when I was six.  Every summer I'd go back to Rhode Island to spend time with my dad.  Then when I was in my late twenties I moved back to Rhode Island.  I just like it.  It's easy to make too much of the size, but the fact that it is so small gives it a special character.  It's possible to know every landmark and vista in the state, which I think makes it unique.  I don't live there anymore--my wife's job took us up to Boston about two years ago--but we get down there a lot.  It's a short drive.  By the way, I think not being a true "Rhode Islander" made it more possible for me to write the book. Sometimes it helps to be an outsider.
The character of Stuart is a young novelist who has written a debut novel and is married.  You are a young novelist who has written a debut novel (and successfully finished your second) and you're married. Are we supposed to see a bit of you in Stuart?
I'd rather you didn't, though that's fine too.  I made Stuart a writer because I wanted to put his feelings across with as little play-pretend as possible.  He's a lot more passive than I am, more cynical and defeatist.  But I can relate to him, sure.
In what sense?
In the sense of working toward a goal that in some respects has defined your life for a number of years (in my case, writing a novel), accomplishing that goal, then realizing you still have some time left on the earth, and wondering what to do next--that part I can relate to.  But Stuart's response and my response are so different.  I didn't become morose--at least I don't think I did.  I just wrote a morose character and put him in a book.
Pike's Folly is, among other things, a snapshot of our imperfect world.  All the characters are caught in some sort of foolishness.  What made you want to explore this aspect of humankind and how did you come to the title Pike's Folly?
Pike's Folly just sounded right--I went through a number of titles but kept coming back to that one; it suggests something about the book without revealing too much.  Reading from Thomas Cleary's translation of the Dhammapada: "A fool who is conscious of his folly is thereby wise; the fool who thinks himself wise is the one to be called a fool."
I have to admit that my favorite character is Marlene.  Where did you come up with the inspiration for her?
She's my favorite as well.  She wasn't really inspired by anyone in particular.  When I was writing her, someone told me they couldn't understand why a person with so many body issues would want to expose herself like that.  It made sense to me, but the challenge was getting it to make sense to a reader.  She's a potentially alienating character, but I think we come to sympathize with her.
How do you go about researching a character like that?
I don't think you can.  You just try to imagine what's in her heart and mind and go from there.  Certainly you can find a wealth of information about exhibitionists and nudists on the Web, but I think most of it's pretty dishonest--I don't know how truthfully people represent themselves online.  That's part of the exhibitionism too, I suppose.
Heath's obsession with Brian Wilson plays a big role in the novel, to say the least.  Why did you incorporate this into Pike's Folly?
I love Brian Wilson.  I love the Beach Boys.  Stop reading this right now and listen to "The Little Girl I Once Knew," or "Let's Get Away For Awhile."  Or "Darlin'," or "Long Promised Road."  I love those artists who somehow manage to straddle the line between experimentation and accessibility.  This book needed a spiritual guide--a guru of sorts--and Brian got the job.  Like so much about this book, I was motivated more by instinct and feel rather than some rational plan.
How do you think your writing has grown or changed since your debut novel, The Egg Code?
I haven't read The Egg Code since I put it to bed, so my memory of it has dimmed somewhat.  I was trying on a number of different hats, and some fit and some didn't.
As a teacher, what advice do you have for other young writers?
Please make it worth the paper it's written on.  Try to change a life--I think anything short of that is a waste of everyone's time.
What's next for you?
My next novel is so different from either The Egg Code or Pike's Folly that it's nearly unrecognizable as the work of the same person.  My writing has become a lot simpler and less showy as I've gotten older.  I'm trying to write more from the heart than the mind.  I went through a personally shattering experience while I was writing Pike's Folly (which had nothing to do with my "writing career," but rather something much more urgent and immediate).  Pike's Folly, which is a boisterous and (hopefully) loveable book, was my way of maintaining my sanity during that experience.  I didn't write it because it made sense from a professional standpoint or to prove anything to anyone, but because it offered an escape from all that.  The "all that" forms the subject of my next book.  After that comes something lighter, but that's far in the future.
From The Christian Science Monitor, February 2009
A new book - yours for the taking by Matthew Shaer
New York - Not so long ago, Ed Medina was studying in the library of Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., when he noticed a peculiar package on a nearby table.  It appeared at first to be the pieces of a abandoned essay, but when Mr. Medina peered more closely, he saw two lines of thick black printing: "Please Read!!! Do Not Discard."
"I was mostly suspicious," Medina explained later.  "Like, is this for real?  But the concept was too intriguing for me to ignore it completely."
As it turned out, that package was a novella--some 11 pages in length, each page split into two columns--typed up by a guy named Mike Heppner, who lived hundreds of miles away, in Belmont, Mass.
In 2002, Mr. Heppner was catapulted into the limelight when his debut novel, The Egg Code, was nominated by both The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of the year.  A second novel, Pike's Folly, also fared well--Esquire magazine gushed over it--and Heppner seemed poised for a successful literary career.
But by 2007, Heppner, who now teaches at Emerson College in Boston, was having trouble placing his work.  "I was frustrated," he remembers.  "No one was biting anymore.  I felt out of the scene.  I wondered for a while there if I should just give up."
Part of the problem, he knew, was the shrinking demand for literary fiction.  Sales across the country were slumping, independent bookstores were shuttering, and most publishers had not yet discovered how to best reach a Web audience.  Still, Heppner had been a writer for 15 years, "and if you've been doing something for 15 years," he says with a laugh, "it's hard to stop."
Eventually, he finished Man Talking, a first-person novella.  The themes were simple and ageless: Why do we tell each other stories?  And what do those stories mean?
Heppner thought about shipping the book off to publishers, but he worried that it might not be marketable.  "It was a fairly substantial amount of work that I had put in--maybe eight months in all," he estimates.  "I thought, 'Might as well put it up online.'  Readers could get it for free, and at the same time, I might get a little bit of attention."
Some 4,000 readers did eventually click through the site, and Heppner garnered some blog buzz, enough to get him thinking big.  A few months afterward, Heppner contacted his friend Jen Hyde, the founder of Brooklyn's Small Anchor Press.
The idea was relatively simple: Publish a limited-edition run of a second novella, Talking Man, which was loosely related to Man Talking.  Then release a third novella, Man, to random locations across the United States, with the help of a network of friends and acquaintances.
Heppner, in other words, hoped to explore three avenues of distribution: online, with Man Talking; through a small press, with Talking Man; and haphazardly, with Man.
"I was very curious about how stories get into the world," he says.  Man Talking and Man, for instance, are both largely concerned with matters of communication--among peers, family members, friends, and strangers.  "What is the relationship between readers and writers, and consumers and producers?" he adds.  "I wanted the way I presented these novellas to be another layer of commentary."
Ms. Hyde was enthusiastic.  "I was fascinated," she says.  "It became this great experiment.  With Man,  we said, 'Let's send these out into the worlds, and let's have absolutely no expectations for it,' which is kind of awesome, when you think about it, because it's something Mike's worked on, and something close and personal.  And by virtue of making these copies, you're almost giving it no monetary value."
In the end, Hyde and Heppner settled on 500 copies of Man and sent stacks out scattershot to college campuses, coffee shops, gyms, offices, and airports.  Each edition was bundled with a one-page cover letter, which informed readers of the Man Talking project and asked that readers send comments and questions to Heppner.
"You hold in your hands a copy of Man, the third in a series of four novellas," the letter read.  "Please do one of the following: (a) read it, (b) leave it where you found it, or (c) give it to a friend."
Among the recipients of Man was Gina Hoch-Stall, a student of dance and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia.  "I found the story quite touching," Ms. Hoch-Stall wrote to Heppner.  "As a choreographer I am often trying to use gestures, memories, and intimate details to bring people into my dances; I feel like this is what made Man successful."
Meanwhile, Heppner and Hyde had released Talking Man in September, to a good deal of acclaim.  (Talking Man will be released this month in a trade edition.)  A fourth installment, Talking, is planned for a March release, although Heppner is keeping mum on the plot and distribution details.  He will say only that he's "extremely excited."

Allegorithms - Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence

Allegorithms , ed. by Vít Bohal & Dustin  Breitling, Litteraria Pragensia, 2017. Contributors: Alexander R. Galloway, Marco Donnarumma...