April 19, 2010
JC: By now you should have heard about Sam Munson. His first novel The November Criminals is on sale this week and deserves your attention. It’s the story of drug peddling high school senior Addison Schact, investigating the murder of a classmate encumbered by his (not) girlfriend and . It’s awkwardly funny and appropriately cynical, with the expected echoes of Holden Caulfield. Check back tomorrow for a review and a chance to win one of five copies. Here’s Sam’s version of When We Fell In Love:
Sam Munson: I was flattered to be asked to write a piece for this series, and wary at the same time: it’s not clear to me why an anecdotal history of my reading habits might be interesting to anyone at all. I am still very young and have achieved very little. There is also, I am sorry to say, always an element of glory-borrowing in such autobiographical dabblings, or at least it seems that way to me. Self-assessment of the kind so causally demanded and practiced by people of literary profession verges, I would argue, on the impossible: who can say, after all, what the decisive moments in his own biography are? Who knows his own influences? When we identify an artist as a touchstone, a fulcrum, or whatever other clumsy machine-metaphor you like, we reveal far more about our warped self-understanding than we do about the subject of our disclosures. That we have been influenced and inclined towards art by occurrences and events outside of art I take as an article of faith. Memories, clouds, plant-scents, scraps of overheard conversation, violent, inexplicable surges of elation or despair, a simultaneous attraction to and repulsion by monotony—these, if anything, constitute the real impetus underlying the desire to write, these and a deep-seated, unconquerable inarticulacy.
I could provide a list of books I’ve loved, but I am ashamed to, because to do so seems to me presumptuous. I have the unfortunate sort of face that inspires people, usually drunks, to hand over their biographical details to me. But even this conceals self-praise. Let me say rather: I am too cowardly to discourage people from speaking to me, or that my capacious memory for the trivia of other people’s lives reflects a consitutional empty-headedness on my part.
Robert Musil once remarked on the utility of a great regret in life, as it can be precisely the necessary spur to serious achievement: he also—only half-facetiously—suggested that intellect requires an admixture of stupidity to undertake its work in the world. I do not claim to possess a strong intellect, or any intellect whatsoever, for that matter, but I am equipped with ample stupidity; I am not blessed with anything so clear and powerful as a great regret, but I do suffer all the petty inner agonies of the bourgeois, and those quite acutely, despite their inherent bathos. And, with a character so constituted, love of art serves little to no purpose, at least as love of art is usually defined. Does this make me a philistine? A nihilist? Simply a bore? (I suspect it’s that last.)
There is, however, a significant piece of biographical information relevant to this enterprise that I do not mind revealing, as I think it will give readers an even clearer picture of my bad character. My forthcoming novel, The November Criminals, was written in a short period of time, about four months. This, at least if I am to judge by people’s responses, is unusually fast. I am often asked for an explanation of my speed. At first these questions left me openmouthed, gaping . . . reflection, though, has led me to one conclusion. I was motivated primarily by jealousy, and even resentment; these both directed toward a friend, a few years younger than me, who had written and published a novel. And with a hag like that on your back, anything is possible. At any speed.