I.N.: Where have you been?
B.: That’s hard to say. I don’t know if I can express that in terms that are physical. For a time, I felt lost. I cannot quite explain it… it’s not that I lost the desire to work or to be social. It’s more that I felt myself almost hyper-consciously aware of my surroundings–like a drop of gas in a puddle, if you get my meaning. I was everywhere and I was nowhere; I was everything and I was nothing. I was not exactly productive. I was not even the slightest bit productive. Still, as in everything, I think I am the better for it.
I.N.: The image of gas in a puddle somehow reminds me of that famous line of Fraser’s.
B.: Oh? Which one? “A turnkey in the evening, a turkey in the morning”?
I.N.: No, I’m thinking of something from much later in his career, from his most transcendental work, in fact: A Study of the Nineteenth Century. “The world has yet to coalesce. The world coalesced at noon.”
B.: Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly! I was perpetually on the verge of coalescing; to describe it in finer terms would be bordering on blasphemous.
I.N.: You’ve said that the past several years haven’t been easy.
B.: That’s right. I hesitate to get into it.
I.N.: What happened?
B.: Everything must be taken in context, that is the most important thing to remember. It is my belief that my downward spiral resulted from a singular incident. It was eight o’clock in the morning. I was on the way to pick up my seven year old son from school; it was Thursday and that’s in the joint custody agreement. I was not having a good day, I was dreading seeing my ex-wife later that evening. We haven’t been on the best of terms: when I published The Sun Always Rises (Fuck You) our relationship was already rocky, but that was probably the final nail in the coffin. She’s been seeing a big, burly ex-football player who spent four years of his life as transvestite. He is a constant presence: the way my ex-wife mentions him is almost menacing. I fear one wrong move and I will be bodily thrown from my second-floor window, or crushed into his heaving bosom. He has a considerable personal fortune, but they’ve abstained from marriage in order to continue to extract alimony. In the meantime–as has been highly publicised– despite strong sales, despite numerous well-endowed awards, I’ve been struggling financially. Anyway, this is the path my mind was following… I was very distracted. On the way to my son’s school, on a little residential street with a speed limit of thirty kilometres, I ran over my neighbour’s dog, Cherry. We were both several blocks from our homes. It was a terrible coincidence–and a devastating one. I pulled over to the side of the road and watched as my neighbour alternated between bereavement and anger. At one point he threatened me with a cinder block, but it was too heavy to wield effectively. I called the school and let them pass on the information that I would not be able to make it–a dangerous move, because missed appointments are noted and later used to restrict visiting privileges or extract more alimony. I fell into a kind of stupor: it was three days before I recovered. When I roused myself I found I was in my living room. The television and radio were on and blaring. My laptop was on my lap, the internet browser was open and fragmented into about fifteen tabs, running the gamut from technological articles, internet fiction, blogs filled with images of bounding kittens and puppies, political essays, and hardcore pornography. For several moments, I could not remember who I was. At my feet was a half-empty bottle of Goldschlager–
I.N.: The drink of the Dutch Nationalists.
B.: Yes, that’s right. Normally I can’t stand the stuff. That day I found it appealing. I could hardly think–from the noise of the radio and the television, the visually disorienting computer screen–and drinking alcohol, especially something strong and distasteful, seemed to me a way of ushering in a new age. I was done with the world, and yet I was also fascinated by it. I spent my days despairing in bed, on my carpet, in the very late hours in a nearby 24 hour doughnut shop–I developed bed sores, crippling social phobias, poor hygiene–and yet I never felt I had a better grasp of the world, of its pulse and happenings. At night I wandered among the young and the fashionable, demanding nothing, or, in the day, I would drive out into the country, park my car on some side road, and disappear into the bush-with only a thermos full of water, usually–sometimes for several days. I spent three years working on a novel–
I.N.: My Body is Religion and Honey.
B.: Yes–and when I was finished I wasn’t satisfied. I fed it to wolves and restarted. It was only when I came again to the novel’s beginning–I was working backwards–that I felt I had fully recovered. I hadn’t noticed, but the process of writing had pulled me further and further from the technological wasteland I had created for myself (created with some help: it is thrust upon all of us). I do not want to toss the word “rebirth” around lightly, but I felt as if I were totally reborn.
I.N.: Does it help that just as your novel was accepted by Knopf (with a six-figure advance fee) your ex-wife and her common-law partner were in the midst of several serious sex scandals, a fraud case, and bankruptcy proceedings?
B.: I do not want to say that it helped, no. That would demonstrate a meanness of spirit I am not quick to demonstrate. Perhaps it might reveal a truth or two in chapter thirty-eight that I would rather it didn’t. I think I am only comfortable talking about it in terms that are strictly personal: “was it redeeming”, for example.
I.N.: Was it redeeming?
B.: Yes. Immensely.