Saturday, October 23, 2010

Local Event: Nicole Krauss - Great House

This Thursday, I joined Lynn Rosen's Sneak Peak class for Nicole Krauss's reading at the Central Library on the Parkway.  Everyone in Lynn's class has already finished reading the newly-released Great House, a fact that surprised even Krauss.  (The class reads advance review copies of soon-to-be-published books.)

I saw Nicole Krauss when she was touring for History of Love.  This time around she seems more comfortable in front of a crowd.   Instead of reading from Great House, Krauss read from something she had prepared about the making of the novel.  Not only was it an exercise that addressed one of her obsessions (memory), but it anticipated those how did you write this questions.  When the final proof of the book is at the publisher, she says, it's like a door is closed.  Locked.  And soon the writer herself begins to forget all that went into the making of the story, how it came to be, the decisions involved, the discarded ideas.  The door is closed and the writer has lost the key.

Great House started as the short story "The Young Painters" published in The New Yorker, in which a New York novelist works at a desk she inherited from a Chilean poet after he was disappeared.  A year after she finished the story she went back and asked, what would happen if the desk was taken away from the novelist?

She had three elements, three obsessions going in -- a desk, a shark and a reassembled room.  She knew there would be four voices and that in some way they were going to connect. There was no outline, no structure. 

Writing for Krauss resembles anthropologists searching for dinosaurs.  The crew start out following their intuition about where a dinosaur might have fallen.  They walk back and forth looking for a claw or a knuckle.  When they find something, they dig until they uncover the dinosaur they've been walking back and forth on top of all along.  That's her process.  Follow her obsession, her intuition, until she uncovers the story she's been walking on all along.

In listening to her describe her process.  You might think, oh this is too intellectual. There's no emotion. This sounds suspiciously like a plotless endeavor.   But you would be wrong.  Now, I haven't read Great House yet.  (The Sneak Peak class thoroughly endorses it.)  Her second novel, History of Love, is one of my all-time favorite novels.  The character of Leo Gursky is one of the most memorable and lovable people I have met.  As a woman in the audience confessed, she sees Leo in a coffee shop whenever someone spills something and thinks that person wants to be noticed.  Krauss's obsessions do meet up and create a novel you want to keep reading. 

If you missed this reading, look for the podcast.  It takes a bit for the library to get them up.  I just listened to Jonathan Franzen's reading and the quality of the recording is very good.  Of course it's not the same as being there and having the opportunity to ask a question if you are so moved, then standing in line to get your book signed and being a blithering idiot in front of your literary idol, but it's good.