William Giraldi is the author of the novel Busy Monsters. His latest novel, Hold the Dark, was published by Norton in fall 2014. He is fiction editor of the journal AGNI at Boston University.
Certain works of art have an occult way of finding us when we are most in need of them, of their example and wisdom and wit. One night recently I was considering ways to wiggle out of having to write a memoir, which I had insensibly signed a contract to do, and was moving alps of books from one corner of my library to another. There, atop a shelf, reemerged a gift from a friend in the South: not a book, but a DVD collection of the films of Ross McElwee, the North Carolina documentarian whose far-famed Sherman’s March is a charismatic masterwork of autobiographical filmmaking.
Of all the pitiless opinions set down about family, it’s hard to beat this snarl by August Strindberg, a sentence which appears early in the first volume of his novelized memoir, The Son of a Servant, one of the bitterest condemnations of family ever written: “Family! thou art the home of all social evil, a charitable institution for comfortable women, an anchorage for house-fathers, and a hell for children.”
For three over-warm days in late May, Allan Gurganus welcomed me to his home to hold forth on his life and art, and on the imminent publication of Local Souls, about the invented town of Falls, North Carolina, population 6,803. An ordinary place of extraordinary people, Falls appears in nearly all of Gurganus’s fiction—“an inexhaustible resource,” he calls it, a town he knows with such kissing intimacy he can amble in it block by block and tell you how many cracks the sidewalks have.
The author reflects on his all-consuming obsession with the White Stripes: "But now—a husband and father of two young boys, a mortgage holder soon to be bushwhacked by forty? Is it not shameful, obsession in this strata of life? Shameful because irresponsible. Irresponsible because every real obsession is an expensive, fatiguing time-suck. How does a grown man come to obsess over a rock band unless something fundamental is lacking in his psyche and soul?"