Tuesday, March 3, 2009

T. C. Boyle

From Cameron Martin's interview with T. C. Boyle at The Barnes & Noble Review:

The Barnes & Noble Review: You've written several works of historical fiction, including The Road to Wellville (about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg), The Inner Circle (Alfred Kinsey), and now The Women, about the wives and mistresses of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. How much do you think readers are helped or hindered by advance knowledge of the historical figures they encounter in fiction, be it yours or others? What books of historical fiction, written by other authors, have left the biggest impression on you? And why?

T. C. Boyle: I don't subscribe to the notion that history is made by the generals and potentates, or certainly not exclusively. What interests me are the passionate oddballs whose obsessions play down through the generations, deciding what we eat (in Kellogg's case, cornflakes), codifying and thus liberating our sexual practices (Kinsey), and inventing a new sort of structure for us to inhabit (Wright). All three men were great egomaniacs (much like a few novelists I know), who created great and enduring things but at the same time, as classic narcissists, did not see or regard others except as they fit into their schemes. As far as readers' impressions of these figures go, I would think that they will be surprised by the intimate and individual take on them in my novels -- in The Women, for instance, we see Frank Lloyd Wright through the points of view of his three wives and mistress, as well as through the lens of one of his acolytes, Tadashi Sato, who, as it turns out, has written the book as a memoir of his master. Of course, in fiction there are no rules, and so one can violate historical reality if he likes -- see Philip Roth's The Plot Against America -- but in my case I've chosen to hold true to the history because the history in itself is so oddly fascinating. Not to mention hilarious and just a bit, well, sticky. Books of historical fiction that have held me spellbound include a number of works by E.L. Doctorow, especially Welcome to Hard Times and Ragtime, Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, John Barth's The Sot-weed Factor, Robert Coover's The Public Burning and many, many others. Why? Because of their subversive reimagining of the received notions about our history, which, of course, is a kind of fiction in any case.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about T. C. Boyle's The Women.

--Marshal Zeringue