Last spring, weekends on All Things Considered spoke with author Ben Fountain just as he released his widely acclaimed first novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Later in the year, it was nominated for the National Book Award.
We asked Fountain to share with us what he's looking forward to in the book world next year. He says he's read about 25 books for release in 2013 and tells host Jacki Lyden, "The state of American fiction is really strong, at least from where I'm standing."
"First and foremost it's a mother-and-son story. It's the story of a single mother whose son goes to the naval academy and ends up becoming a Navy Seal. It moves from a mother and son story to a war story ... A really wrenching, and unflinching, I would say, war story."
"It has a lot of the things that I am interested in - politics, power. The big external forces in our lives that play such a big role in our interior lives, and that intersection between the individual and the larger forces in the world. [The main character] Jacqueline, she's a refugee from the Liberian Civil War ... and she has lost literally everything except the clothes on her back — her family, her home. Basically what she has is her memories and her wits, and these memories, especially of her family, they sustain and torment her as she tries to survive ... So, you know, this book, the writing is extraordinary. When I say extraordinary, I don't mean it's pretty or gorgeous for gorgeousness sake. Maksik, he is really getting down deep into, you know, the nature of human experience and the nature of love, and the nature of loss. And line by line, the power accumulates in this book is kind of like a stealth tsunami."
"We are talking about the guy who invented Ripley's Believe It or Not! I would say Robert Ripley is a true American original. He invented himself, and along the way invented huge chunks of American culture. He was right there at the beginning of cartooning, tabloid news ... So much of what we recognize as, you know, just the background of our lives and American culture — you know, sensationalism and celebrity news — Ripley was right there at the beginning of it. He built an entire entertainment conglomerate around himself. At one time he was, you know, an extremely wealthy man. He went all over the world in search of the exotic and the strange, and the weird, and he also had a pretty racy personal life. He had a harem long before Hugh Hefner ever thought of the Playboy Mansion."
"Linda Bamber is a professor of English at Tufts University in Boston, and most of the stories in the collection take off from various Shakespeare plays — Othello, and Antony and Cleopatra, Henry IV, As You Like It. And she takes them in these amazing directions. In one story, the heroine of As You Like It leaves her play and ends up dating all the three principle men of Henry IV. In another, the entire cast of Othello is now a college English department, and Desdemona is the chairman, and Othello is the only minority member, and Iago is in there as well, you know, making trouble as always ... I mean, I have never read anything quite like these stories. They have attitude, and they shake things up. They are playful, and inventive, and funny, and Bamber gets the entire world into each one of her stories."