What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m finishing up a classic I’ve never read before—Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables—and then I’ve got Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling. Not exactly light reading, but I like my fiction like I like my food: rich, with complicated sauces.
What was the last book you read that floored you?
Last year I started reading the classic 19th century Russians—Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I’d read Crime and Punishment before, but re-reading it was a revelation. The dark humor, the cynicism, and the spirituality of the book—all somehow existing together in a single narrative—really floored me.
What's the best classic novel you've ever read?
Well, the one that had the most impact on me, because I read it as a teenager and hadn’t read anything like it before, was War and Peace. I still remember exactly where I was when I finished it, and how I sat there, staring out the window of my grandmother’s house in southern Germany, literally stunned by what I’d just experienced.
What's your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
I seem to have lots of favorites that no one else has heard of! Let me offer three. Michelle Latiolais’ Widow—an incredibly poignant and surprisingly funny collection of linked stories about widowhood. Louis B. Jones’ Particles and Luck—a stylish, blackly funny, and often profound novel about a young physicist. And finally Brandon Glossop’s The Place Between the Pillars—a propulsive, bleak, and powerful novel about drug abuse and war.
I loved the Book-Within-A-Book in The Garden of Blue Roses. And the idea that it was in poetic form. Who are some of your favorite poets?
I’ve always had a soft spot for densely musical poetry, so: T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop of the 20th century, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, and John Keats of the 19th century, and of course Shakespeare.
Do you have any poetry published, macabre or otherwise?
I wish! I wrote poetry in college, quite badly, and if I haven’t burned those poems by now, I really should. In fact, it’s cold in Chicago, so let me do that right now.
Would you consider Milo to be an unreliable narrator? What books with unreliable narrators do you like?
Oh yes, Milo is certainly an unreliable narrator, because you’re never quite sure whether you can trust him or his perceptions. Not surprisingly, I’m fascinated by unreliable narrators in fiction—by what they tell us about the limits of our own perception.
Some of my favorite books that employ unreliable narrators include Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and much of Edgar Allan Poe.
If The Garden of Blue Roses were to be made into a movie, who would you like to see cast?
Hmm. Milo is such an odd character. Unattractive, childlike, fussy, and eloquent. It really would have to be a no-name actor who could morph into the role.
For Klara, someone tall, with a reserved severity about her, like Tilda Swinton.
For Henri, I’d say someone who is handsome yet edgy, like Aidan Gillen.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelf?
Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Richter Und Sein Henker. In German, because that was my first language.
What is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite anti-hero or villain?
Favorite hero: a tie between Pierre Besukhov from War and Peace, and Jean Valjean from Les Miserables
Favorite villain: Is Humbert Humbert a villain? If not, I’ll go with Gollum from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader as a child, usually of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. I devoured anything by Agatha Christie, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lloyd Alexander.
You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Vladimir Nabokov. The conversation would be witty and at least in part in languages I don’t understand, but it would be a splendid thing to partake in.
Who would you want to write your life story?
Someone who could write an exciting narrative about essentially boring stuff.
What do you plan to read next?
Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel. I loved Rebecca and am eager to dive back into DuMaurier’s lush imagination!
The Garden Of Blue Roses Will Be Released April 17, 2018