Culture > Q&A

Without irony

"Without irony" Continued...

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Also, a lot of contemporary literature is so ironic. With Jim the Boy I decided to throw irony out of the toolbox. Irony followed to its natural conclusion precludes belief in anything. The ironic writer writes from a standpoint that presupposes the meaninglessness of everything. For example, he or she presupposes that all human institutions are stupid. That is at the heart of irony. And don't get me wrong, there is a great deal of stupidity and cruelty in the world. But I don't think that is the final word. Writing would be worthless if transformation was not possible.

How did you develop such a clear and concise style? Hemingway and Cather as models. Hemingway was so talented. I admire him so much for his craft, though he was a pretty awful human being. I like the difficulty of doing something complicated with a simple sentence. I like the technical challenge of trying to say something without saying something. I like art with spare lines, Matisse, Picasso, Hank Williams. What is simpler, or more complicated, than a Hank Williams song?

Jim the Boy has been a critical success. How has that affected you? The summer of Jim the Boy was remarkable: reviews, awards, crowds. I was hailed as the next big thing. At the end of the summer, Sarah and I pulled into the driveway after our last big trip. She looked around and said, "The grass needs mowing." And I came within a fingernail of saying, "Don't you know who I am!" But this tiny little voice, the last bit of sanity within me said, "You probably shouldn't say that, Tony." So . . . I unpacked the car and mowed the grass."


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