Too nice for vice?

"Too nice for vice?" Continued...

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

KLAVAN: There again, I think what you're seeing is more realism, less theory, less nonsensical psychological overlay. I think a lot of modern novelists think they're going to explain evil to you, really get to the heart of it. And what you get instead is pathologizing rhetoric, characters forced to behave according to the latest fad psychological theory. The more I trust to God's reality, the more I let evil characters just act the way they do in real life. Self-rationalizing, radically egocentric, relishing the anonymity of their power—"satanic" is a good word.

WORLD: Damnation Street depicts Christians in the hostile territory of the University of California, Berkeley, meeting privately and quietly for worship in an unmarked house. The narrator, peeking in from a back window, is shocked: "They were praying. They were Christians. Emma too. Emma was a Christian. I could not have been more shocked if I had looked in and seen her [expletive]. . . . What was she thinking? How could she be possibly be a Christian?" Is that the reaction you get among those who knew you prior to your becoming a Christian several years ago, and how do you think your change will affect your reputation?

KLAVAN: You know, I suspect everyone who sets sail on the sea of faith is a little bit like Christopher Columbus. There are all these people on shore saying, "Are you crazy? You're going to fall off the edge of reality!" And instead, you discover a new world. That said, in my personal life, God has showered me with so many people who love and accept me that the transition was easy. Professionally, in Hollywood and New York, there are still some moments of discomfort. But I'm a hard case—I can handle it.

WORLD: The narrator in Shotgun Alley (2004) criticizes "those ideologues who thought marriage was oppression and sex was rape and men and women should be exactly the same. . . . They were bullies and liars. They lied about history and human nature and statistics." Did your understanding of human nature lead you to a Christian worldview, did your growing religious understanding lead you to oppose the bullies, or both?

KLAVAN: Well, if becoming a Christian meant you understood human nature less, the evidence would be all against it. But, in fact, what you get is a deep, sorrowing, almost unbearable insight yet without anger and without despair. Remember Jesus and the Samaritan woman by the well? That wry, kindly acceptance of her messy sex life that doesn't abandon morality yet doesn't descend into finger-wagging moralism—to me, that's the essence of tough guy fiction—of all good fiction. As for the bullies, feminist and otherwise, I always knew what they were, I've just become less willing to shut up about it.

WORLD: And what about literature professors? Damnation Street has a great riff on academic novels; it concludes, "there were all the usual passages where the languid acerbic eloquence suddenly gives way to a more heartfelt but still acceptably ironic eloquence with which the professor affirms the beauty of this meaningless spark of a meaningless flame that was the life of the imagined soul in the accidental universe, which was really only the novel he was writing, which was this novel, which was this universe and so on." Why do reviewers tend to praise such stuff?

KLAVAN: Because it's like dropping into a warm bath for them. It confirms all their otherwise indefensible ideas. Whenever you hear a reviewer call a novel "Shocking!" or "Disturbing!" or "Radical!" they don't mean it's shocking or disturbing or radical to them! They mean it's going to shock or disturb some conservative evangelical they've invented in their own minds. What it really does is stroke their egos, tell them how wise they are, how perfectly their silly theories reflect life and plumb the depths of art. Something that actually shocked or disturbed them—well, take The Passion of the Christ, for instance—not my favorite movie for purely cinematic reasons—but that really shocked them, and you saw the ugly result.

WORLD: Does the dominance of literary fiction among teachers hurt educational efforts as well? The San Diego Union Tribune in 2004 quoted you as saying, "They tell me you can't get boys to read. But what are they giving them to read? I wanted to bring back hard guys." Do you find middle-school and high-school kids reading your books? What's their reaction?

KLAVAN: Well, of course it hurts education; of course it does. Kids are the first to know when you're lying to them with some politically correct malarky. They may not have the courage or the confidence to oppose it. But they'll just turn away, go somewhere else, play video games where men fight dragons and don't have to be so sensitive and girly. As for their reactions to my work, it's hard to say because the kids who write to me tend to be fans. Whether other kids are reading me and hate me, I don't know. What I hear is always very flattering.


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