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320

INTOXICATION: The Art of Fiction XCIII

interview with John Irving

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notes

Paris Review, T. (2004). The Art of Fiction XCIII. In Paris Review, T. The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, ... Else in the World Since 1953. Picador, pp. 320-320

320

INTERVIEWER
You’ve said that the reason both Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote their best books in their twenties (they were twenty-seven when they wrote The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby) is that they “pickled their brains.” Do you really believe that?

IRVING
Yes, I really believe that. They should have gotten better as they got older; I’ve gotten better. We’re not professional athletes; it’s reasonable to assume that we’ll get better as we mature—at least, until we start getting senile. Of course, some writers who write their best books early simply lose interest in writing; or they lose their concentration—probably because they want to do other things. But Hemingway and Fitzgerald really lived to write; their bodies and their brains betrayed them. I’m such an incapable drinker, I’m lucky. If I drink half a bottle of red wine with my dinner, I forget who I had dinner with—not to mention everything that I or anybody else said. If I drink more than half a bottle, I fall instantly asleep. But just think of what novelists do: fiction writing requires a kind of memory, a vigorous, invented memory. If I can forget who I had dinner with, what might I forget about my novel-in-progress? The irony is that drinking is especially dangerous to novelists; memory is vital to us. I’m not so down on drinking for writers from a moral point of view; but booze is clearly not good for writing or for driving cars. You know what Lawrence said: “The novel is the highest example of subtle interrelatedness that man has discovered.” I agree! And just consider for one second what drinking does to “subtle interrelatedness.” Forget the “subtle”; “interrelatedness” is what makes novels work—without it, you have no narrative momentum; you have incoherent rambling. Drunks ramble; so do books by drunks.

—p.320 by The Paris Review 1 month, 2 weeks ago

INTERVIEWER
You’ve said that the reason both Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote their best books in their twenties (they were twenty-seven when they wrote The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby) is that they “pickled their brains.” Do you really believe that?

IRVING
Yes, I really believe that. They should have gotten better as they got older; I’ve gotten better. We’re not professional athletes; it’s reasonable to assume that we’ll get better as we mature—at least, until we start getting senile. Of course, some writers who write their best books early simply lose interest in writing; or they lose their concentration—probably because they want to do other things. But Hemingway and Fitzgerald really lived to write; their bodies and their brains betrayed them. I’m such an incapable drinker, I’m lucky. If I drink half a bottle of red wine with my dinner, I forget who I had dinner with—not to mention everything that I or anybody else said. If I drink more than half a bottle, I fall instantly asleep. But just think of what novelists do: fiction writing requires a kind of memory, a vigorous, invented memory. If I can forget who I had dinner with, what might I forget about my novel-in-progress? The irony is that drinking is especially dangerous to novelists; memory is vital to us. I’m not so down on drinking for writers from a moral point of view; but booze is clearly not good for writing or for driving cars. You know what Lawrence said: “The novel is the highest example of subtle interrelatedness that man has discovered.” I agree! And just consider for one second what drinking does to “subtle interrelatedness.” Forget the “subtle”; “interrelatedness” is what makes novels work—without it, you have no narrative momentum; you have incoherent rambling. Drunks ramble; so do books by drunks.

—p.320 by The Paris Review 1 month, 2 weeks ago