I thought we started already. In fact, it seems like you’ve always been here.
I’m very familiar with your new novel, PANORAMA CITY, but how would you describe it to a random person in a bar?
It’s about a village idiot who wants to become a man of the world.
How would you describe it to a literary agent?
After an accident, Oppen Porter, twenty-nine years old, finds himself on his deathbed, believing he’s not going to make it through the night. Against the urgings of his girlfriend, Carmen, a retired prostitute now pregnant with his son, and despite the painkillers pumped into his IV at regular intervals, Oppen records, on cassette tapes, everything he thinks his unborn son might find useful in becoming a man of the world.
How would you describe it to a Hollywood development executive?
Gilead meets The Jerk.
How would you describe it to your therapist?
I know you don’t really have a therapist, but can you expand on that?
The book is addressed to Oppen’s soon-to-arrive son, and opens with Oppen burying his father in their backyard. In his own limited way, he’s addressing what it means to be the link between generations. My own son was born as I began writing this book and my father died while I was writing it. Like Oppen, I was doing a great deal of thinking about what it meant to be a son and a father.
What about Oppen’s journey of self-determination?
Let’s just say that one has to navigate a labyrinth of competing ideologies (and their adherents) on the way to figuring one’s path in life. Oppen manages to remain open-hearted while also asserting himself. His priorities are not the same as everyone else’s.
Kind of like being a novelist today in Los Angeles?
If you’re secure enough in yourself to remain out-of-step, so to speak, without getting sucked into other people’s priorities, Los Angeles is actually the perfect place for a novelist like me. The lack of codified literary culture makes for a whole lot of artistic freedom. Plus the weather and the surfing.
Would you call PANORAMA CITY a comic novel?
I’d call it a bildungsroman, despite Oppen’s somewhat advanced age for that genre. As for the comedy, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to nudge my work away from literary forebears and toward contemporary lived experience. This includes a sense of what’s funny. The problem with comedy is that it tends to favor the ephemeral, the improvisational, while books are way more codified. Too many comic novels feel immediately like they were written a million years ago. Flat satire, stock characters, and so on. My sense of the comic comes from an attempt to get closer to life, not farther away from it.
Final question: If you could have written any book published in your lifetime, which book would you have written? Excluding your books, naturally.
I’m going to have to go with THE FERMATA by Nicholson Baker.
Antoine Wilson is the author of the novel The Interloper, and his work has appeared in The Paris Review, StoryQuarterly, and Best New American Voices. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is a contributing editor of A Public Space and the recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin. Wilson lives and surfs in Los Angeles.