|photo: Cybele Knowles
Aurelie Sheehan is the author of two novels, History Lesson for Girls and The Anxiety of Everyday Objects, as well as two story collections, Jewelry Box: A Collection of Histories and Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant. Her work has been published in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, Epoch, Fairy Tale Review, Fence, New England Review, Ploughshares, the Southern Review and other journals. She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Camargo Fellowship, the Jack Kerouac Literary Award and an artist project grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Sheehan is an associate professor of fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Demigods on Speedway (University of Arizona Press, November 13, 2014) is a collection of linked stories set in Tucson.
On your nightstand now:
When Gabriel García Márquez died, I picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude again for the first time in about 25 years (of solitude). Yes, it holds up. The most exciting thing about it for me now is simply the texture of the lives he envisions--the texture of time. How we as writers or readers express or experience time is one of the most powerful elements in fiction, and he is beyond genius in this category. Also, I just finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I was completely taken by this novel. I admired the heck out of the structure, and the sense of transparency--the depth and verisimilitude in the character and her voice--was really effective. The way we construct the narrative of our lives, the way we experience narrative and memory, is the essential shaper of this story. Next up: American Innovations by Rivka Galchen and the stories of Muriel Spark.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Russell Hoban's The Little Brute Family, then Nancy Drew in those young years, segueing into a dubious abyss that involved Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls and then got a little more highbrow again with Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch. With those titles, you get a quick, tragic sense of how my childhood went wrong. Actually when I look at that trajectory, I see mystery everywhere, not just with Nancy Drew and her old clocks, hidden staircases and whatnot. What is the meaning of life? Tell me, tell me. That was the situation back then, as it is now.
Your top five favorite authors:
Five is so hard, but here are five authors who've had a lasting effect on me as a writer: Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Clarice Lispector, Zadie Smith, Edward P. Jones.
Book you've faked reading:
Um, the Bible. In graduate school, I taught Humanities 101, and one of the texts was Genesis. I bought a Bible for the occasion. I read Genesis. But it seemed I should probably read the rest, too, so one hot summer afternoon I sat in my apartment and basically skimmed the entire Bible, fruit to nuts. It was like that cartoon series, 30-Seconds Bunnies Theatre, a very sped-up version indeed. I was mostly annoyed that in my version, Jesus's words were in red (which seemed typographically intrusive), and I was surprised by how long everyone seemed to live.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Probably it would be good to ask my students. I think I always find a reason to suggest they read Edward P. Jones, for instance. He is a master. But I also panic if someone hasn't read Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann. I love that book so much. It's the most beautiful voice, so funny. It's all about New Orleans and love and tragedy. This is the first sentence: "All in all Henry Laines' wedding was one of the worst events in my experience, tragic in society."
Book you've bought for the cover:
Cover and title count? I remember going to the Gotham Book Mart in New York City when I was in college, ready to try some new things. I bought How German Is It by Walter Abish. There is an odd man on an odd horse in the water on the cover. It's a black-and-white photograph (the classic New Directions look). I think I was going for intellectual avant-garde, or I might have been investigating the German part of me. I'm also partial to horses, especially odd, possibly ironic horses. The book is still out there--it won the 1981 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Book that changed your life:
At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien. This book is a hilarious, foolish, brilliant Irish masterpiece. My writing professor in college first suggested it. A coming-of-age novel, kind of, At Swim-Two-Birds is an immersion into the playfulness of language and the imagination. There is a lot of underage drinking. It was one of my first encounters with fiction that's intensely engaging as story but also aware of itself as artifice.
Favorite line from a book:
Let's just say there are a lot of cool passages in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but last night I read and loved this: "[Úrsula] knew with so much certainty the location of everything that she herself forgot that she was blind at times. On one occasion Fernanda had the whole house upset because she had lost her wedding ring, and Úrsula found it on a shelf in the children's bedroom. Quite simply, while the others were going carelessly all about, she watched them with her four senses so that they never took her by surprise, and after some time she discovered that every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I was stunned by this book when I first read it. It's one of those situations where you have no idea quite how dark the clouds are getting, how deeply invested you are in a character, until the end, when it dawns on you, and you are slain.