Shannon McCloskey Allain Interview – Part 3

[Part 3 of 3 of an email interview — see McCloskey Allain’s long review of ENGLISHMAN]

The central theme of the novel seems to be the question of free will, how much control we have over our destinies, if any, and the acceptance of the mystery of our condition. Each character has his or her own take on this, from Henry’s belief you have some control (which exacerbates his panic when he feels he doesn’t), to Hearne’s blustery bravado & acceptance, to Kinnell’s search for enlightenment through being ‘in the moment’, to Julia’s reliance on literature and music to comfort and explain the human condition and tragically, Moberley’s descent into madness/violence. Have I missed any themes?

No, and that’s as good or better a job at describing them as I could pull off. The only thing I would add is what I was talking about before in the last two responses: the dead-end of finally relying upon language and literature to provide you with meaning — ‘in the moment’ is the only place we can actually be — instead of seeing the meaning in front of you. If this book gets picked up by a publisher, I’d like to include at the front, before Chapter 1, this quote from Morrissey’s “I Will See You In Far-off Places” —

Nobody knows what human life is.
Why we come, why we go.
So why then do I know […]

and Wallace Stevens’ incomparable “The Snow Man” —

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; 

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves, 

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place 

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

These two do a good job, I think, preparing the reader for the spirit of the novel, and you can see how they fit into our themes. Unfortunately, because of copyright issues, I didn’t want to chance it for the Amazon KDP publication.

I’ll tell you one more thing. I see this book as something of a parable, even a fairy tale. When I was writing it, I found myself being pulled away from a straighter ‘realism’ and into imaginative/biblical/classical territories. I don’t think it’s a big, complex dish of fiction. It’s slighter than that, less ambitious by far; instead, it tries to be an incredibly tasty morsel, an appetizer you wouldn’t mind eating more of until it’s become your main course. It’s also obviously pretty farfetched, and that’s what it had to be: a meta-fiction of literature and literary tropes to talk about the futility of literature to take the place of life. Also, I don’t know if you caught this, but the writer of the novel is Henry himself: it’s the book he has in mind in the last chapter. And Henry is also a character in this novel, and I wrote the novel, and the “I” of Henry is, to some degree, the “I” of me, as well. So, we’re trying for worlds-within-worlds with this novel, or words-within-words, all of which to talk about multi-realities.

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