Nathan Englander in New Letters


Discovering a new writer is such a joyful and annoying prospect. Joyful, of course, because I love to read. Annoying because I discover them faster than I can read them.

I had heard of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges before but couldn’t tell you anything about it, not even the name of its author. But I just read a short essay by and an interview with Nathan Englander in New Letters (74:3 2008). In addition to Urges, Englander also wrote The Ministry of Special Cases and the interview focuses on this latter work.

Of course, the short essay, “The Quick and the Dead” (about his visit to Argentina to visit cemeteries) and the interview made me want to read his books, so onto the pile they go.

Although the interview focuses on The Ministry of Special Cases, he does make some interesting observations about novel writing in general. Since part of my hope for this blog is to chronicle interesting and helpful quotes about writing, I’ll pass along a couple from Englander:

On plot:

“From reading the book it would seem that one outcome is much more likely fated, but I like to think that, as in a haiku, if a novel is functioning, there’s a momentum to the ending.”

On getting the details right:

“Because fiction has to be this unbroken dream. If a reader says to himself that street doesn’t go that way, or you wouldn’t hear the airport from there, he isn’t in the dream. To me that’s a failure, because it’s a question of effort.”

And since it’s November:

“Some people write a book just because they can, and those people are scary to me.” (The connection of this quote to nanowrimo is mine not Englander’s but it seems apropos.)


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