I’ve been helping to write the promotional materials for If (a novel by the author(s) of this blog) over the last few days, and I thought I’d post some of the materials here in case anyone would be curious. If will be coming out later this year from Livingston Press, a refuge of the humanities in the fine state of Alabama:
In If, I used an experimental form where the reader makes a choice at the end of every chapter, and this choice determines the course of the novel. A lot of people probably remember reading adventure books like this when they were children, and part of my goal was to play with that association — to start the book as a children’s book, and slowly have it transform into different things. I wanted to show the metamorphosis from youth to adulthood by making the book change from the kind of book that a middle schooler might read to the kinds of books and poems we read as adults.
Instead of following a single narrative, the chapters in If branch out from one another. Why did you take this approach?
I wanted to write a novel where not only the characters and the setting change, but the book itself goes through metamorphoses. The style changes, the shapes of the paragraphs change, sometimes the genre. My sense is that a boy’s lived experience at the age of twelve is so different from his life at the age of twenty, it’s more like the difference between two novels than like the differences inside of most novels. If tries to capture that.
Why did you choose to write this novel under a pseudonym?
I think there’s a risk today that novels will become like paintings in a museum where viewers look at the little explanatory label on the wall longer than they look at the painting itself. I want readers who get meaning out of this book to get it by reading the book.
Why do the reader’s choices so often lead to failure?
Trying and failing to live an exceptional life is one of those themes that never gets old. You can go all the way back to Don Quixote wanting to live like a knight in a chivalrous romance and then ending up living in a kind of farce. Or Emma Bovary trying to have an affair out of a romance novel and how that ended up. The world today is full of movies and TV shows that give young people pictures of seductive lives — wealth and fame, or some kind of holy righteousness, or romantic self-destruction, whatever. I think it’s worth asking: what does life look like when you try to achieve one of these ideals, and fail? That’s a lot of what If is about. Aiming for an extreme ideal in life and then missing the target.
The episodes take place across the United States, in Europe, Central America… How did you choose these settings?
The novel tries to show some of the variety in the ways a young man’s life can fall apart during those years from adolescence to the start of adulthood. As Francis says somewhere in the novel, it’s an Unbildungsroman — a novel about coming apart. I thought the geography of the novel should splinter and fragment just like the main character’s life.