TQO: I wanted to ask you about capturing thought process. The Instructions is written in first person, and it felt true to being in someone’s head. Did you have any strategies or ways of thinking about that?
AL: Gurion’s voice changed and developed as I wrote, and the novel is written as if it’s a document, so it’s a story that is aware of itself. It’s written as if it’s scripture, so that gave me permission to be more analytical. I tend to think [judging authenticity] is like third-level analysis. When you read shit that works, not to get all mystical, but take George Saunders’s story “Jon”—these are voices that don’t exist. He’s creating something that doesn’t exist, but they’re internally consistent, and you’re laughing. Images are created that pop. So you’re not like “This is inauthentic,” you’re like “This is fucking great!” Or that Wells Tower story “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” It’s this Viking, and he’s narrating his Viking adventures, and that shit doesn’t exist, but it’s great. So if you work sentence to sentence, and you trust that what you’re writing is exciting, that authenticity question goes out the window, because what is authentic?
TQO: Well, it goes to believability. You’re right, you can break it down to the sentence level.
AL: Or even the paragraph level. Have you read any Stanley Elkin? That guy doesn’t write the way people actually talk. He’s brilliant—super-stylized, long-winded. But there’s something authentic there—it really sounds like a Borscht Belt comedian. At the same time a Borscht Belt comedian is a performer, and his narrator doesn’t sound like a comedian, but maybe fifty times greater.
TQO: Borscht Belt comedian? Is that a real thing?
AL: Yeah, you know, like a performer in the Catskills making corny jokes. Or like Barry Hannah in “Testimony of Pilot.” No one really talks that way; no one is quite that articulate.