Max Jamison, Office Politics,and People Will Always Be Kind as well as the one reviewed opposite. Snowbound in Sagaponock, Long Island, the other week, he began talking to himself. This is the result.
Q. Are you English or American?
A. On the whole, yes.
Q. In that case, what language do you speak?
A. It depends. Over breakfast, a sort of cockney whine. For lunch, something neutral that always sounds like another part of the country. This shades off gradually into straight New Jersey-Australian, which by bedtime reaches an unpredictable crescendo of zoolike noises. Or so I imagine.
Q. Is there a transatlantic style?
A. Only bits and pieces of one. In my case, I picture a Thurber undercoat, with a Wodehouse veneer. But it could be Lardner and Forster. American prose is always on the bottom, though - my first love.
Q. Is there a transatlantic man?
A. Again bits and pieces, like one of those reconstructed fossils: a school here, a friend there, and voila, Piltdown Man, or homo transatlanticus. My novel is a species of archaeological dig.
Q. Autobiographical dig?
A. I thought you'd ask that. Some childhood backdrops are used, because they were easier to authenticate (it's especially hard to put together a transatlantic child). But all is distorted, as in dreams. For instance, the father is a memory of an old soldiers' home I lived near as a boy: Old England on its last legs. The sister is a refugee I thought I saw on the boat coming over. And so on. The hero is a TV personage, because that seems the ultimate fulfillment of transatlanticness, which is basically a vocal condition anyway.
Q. Frost, Cooke, who?
A. The bizarreness of matching these two names shows the desperation of the search. One must find real people in novels these days even if one has invent them. Obviously my man Chatworth is a million miles from either Frost or Cooke. Dame May Whitty might be closer.
Q. You seem to have used some of the same subject matter in other books.
A. I'd noticed that. Evelyn Waugh always thought it a shame that painters get to do 50 madonnas, writers only one. My original design was to use all the same material, but by turning it in the light, to produce a different object. Writers of long books attain a certain richness this way; the rest of us have to do it in installments.
Q. Doesn't making Chatworth a Catholic distract from the transatlantic situation?
A. Well, something had to. Nobody is just transatlantic. And a supranational link - Catholicism, Judaism, even christian Science - is attractive to transatlantic man because it gives him the impression he belongs, at least in certain buildings. The confessional is home to Chatworth (which doesn't mean be likes it): the one place where the words and rules never vary. Of course one can't run a church just for international travelers, but the old Rome was a great source of comfort and identity for the likes of us.
A. No more. I've given up my transatlantic ways - it's as exhausting as being bisexual - am almost scared to go back and start all that stuff in motion again. Culture shock is real, and it hits me like a sonic boom, rearranging one's personality in old patterns, like the dots in a TV picture. Chatworth is condemned to be so buffeted forever and it is that more than anything which makes him reach for the confessional.
Q. In the form of a tape recorder?
A. Father Sony is a neutral collector of voices, sins, past lives. Among these is the voice that can forgive Chatworth, even though he must provide it himself. It's like Jelly Roll Morton smothering himself in Christian holy oul and then sending for the witch doctor. Something's got to work around here.
Q. Is your book religious?
A. That would be the kiss of death would it not?If one could reclaim religion as a branch of poetry, as one of the arts, where priests sang and even danced and the faithful cried real tears, then it would be an pleasure to say yes.
Q. Why don't you stick to writing criticism?
A. Because I don't like it.
Q. Next novel?
A. Entirely different. More story, more characters - if only to prove that these, rightly used, can produce the exact same effects as intorspection.
Q. Will it be considered autobiographical?
A.If I lay my cards right, yes. Quasi-confession is a very useful and difficult trick in the dirty business of fiction.If I wrote a book about a moon landing, I would like people to say, my God, he certainly gave himself away in the one.From Alice to Lolita (to cite the masters), it is simply one of the things we try to do.