We were thrilled to have the chance to interview author/critic/amateur musician/professor David Gates, whose debut novel Jernigan was a Pulitzer finalist, and whose short story collection Wonders of the Invisible World was also one of our favorites.
booknosh: You’ve been a writer, an editor, a musician, a teacher and a critic — which of those roles is the most natural? the hardest work? or does it all go hand in hand?
DG: Probably editing comes the most naturally to me. I usually seem to know what to do with a piece of text, especially one that’s not my own–though of course I can be wrong. I haven’t done a lot of criticism lately, but teaching draws on what I know from both being a critic and a editor. Writing is the hardest work, and it gets harder as I learn more and set the bar higher for myself; it’s also what I probably do best. Music might be the most pure fun, but I’m a limited, not-professional-quality musician; I’m most successful when I play and sing within those limits.
5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
A dark portrait of suburban life gone awry, Jernigan’s misery is due in equal parts to bad luck/unfortunate circumstance as well as chronically bad life choices on his part. Jernigan is self-deprecating, yet kind of a bully; he’s intelligent but completely underutilized; he’s psychologically damaged but also simultaneously aware and oblivious in a way that’s hard not to identify with. Though Jernigan is plagued with specific psychoses and vices (his bunny-killing lover, alcoholism), there is an everyman quality about him and his circumstances where you can’t help but relate to him, and even root for him. Both depressing and hilarious, this is a brilliant novel that is compulsively readable.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Gates creates a hosts of characters who are ordinary, extraordinary, tragic, and believable: they are steeped in both cynicism and hope, they both loathe and love the environments around them, they talk to themselves, saying, “enough with the similes and sentimentalities!” yet often taking us there anyway. They’re meta — really meta — at times, always self-deprecating, make a host of mistakes and justifications (adultery, drugs, escape from the city to suburbia), and find small relief in their daily routines. The dialogue is quick, sparse, and effective, and the struggles are familiar and easy to empathize with… overall, this is one of the strongest short story collections I’ve read.