Sunday, June 21, 2009
TIM HORVATH: The tome sets the tone in his novella ‘ Circulation’
Tim Horvath is a youngish, scholarly looking man, with a new novella out from the former Somerville-based press sunnyoutside. His book “Circulation” concerns a librarian, his love of books, and his relationship with a decidedly eccentric father. Through books he connects with his father, as well as a love interest.
Tim Horvath received his MFA from the University of New Hampshire where he won the Thomas Williams Memorial Prize. His story “The Under Story” won the 2006 Raymond Carver Short Story Award. His work has appeared in Alimentum, Puerto De Sol, and other journals. He was the recipent of a 2008 Yaddo Fellowship. I talked with Horvath on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”
Doug Holder: Books in general are the real protagonists in Circulation; from the father’s never realized work: “The Atlas of the Voyage of Things,” to the numerous other titles you mention. Do books make good heroes?
Tim Horvath: I think so. The impetus for the story itself… the first image that came to me was the book itself. The book circulating around. The worlds it would go into—the lives it would intersect. This was inspired by Primo Levi’s book the “ Periodic Table” He was a chemist in addition to being a Holocaust survivor. In “The Periodic Table” he takes 20 chemical agents and builds stories around them. Each one is a sort of incorporation of the elements. The last one was carbon…it really was a beautiful essay. It traces a single molecule of carbon throughout. For instance, at one point it in winds up in a bottle of wine. It has a marvelous ending. So I had this idea swimming in my head. I assigned the idea to books.
DH: Are you a bookish person?
TH: I grew up surrounded by books. I did eventually move away from the book being the only character in “Circulation.”
DH: Have books been heroes in your own life and others? Can they save people?
TH: I think so. I was surrounded with books as a kid. I can remember sort of sleeping with a bunch of books. My own daughter, who will be 4, does the same thing. It is almost like she is genetically programmed. Books have a power beyond their physical status.
DH: Your novella is not big on plot It seems more like a meditation. No sex and violence either. Any comment?
TH: Yeah, but the sequel we’ll have it. (Laugh) The novel I am working on “Goodbye Many Languages” will have three plots from the opening page. It is not my natural tendency. Obviously in “Circulation” it wasn’t a priority.
DH: Give me a description of the book and your influences?
TH: Borges was a big influence on the main character and me. The main character is a librarian. Borges has a story called “The Library of Babel” which is basically about
the universe as a library. The protagonist in my book is mindful of that library. The idea haunts him a little bit. It is almost like a Platonic idea of a library. Although Borges is a big influence on my work, he is almost purely concerned with metaphysical issues. He is not writing about sex, love and relationships. He is not writing about fathers and sons, which my book clearly does. I’d like to think that my book does both, the metaphysical and the ontological.
DH: The title character connects with a love interest through his father’s obscure book about caves. Is this part of your concept of the strange circulation of books, and the strange circulation of the world?
TH: Yeah. Global patterns or connections. There is an element of Chaos Theory there.
DH: In the many interviews with writers I have conducted I have noticed that they held many unusual jobs to make ends meet. Your work at a psychiatric hospital in New Hampshire. How does this fit in with your writing life?
TH: In a lot of ways it doesn’t. It pays the bills. It opens up time for me. Some of my obsessions with human character and personality come through in that job. I spend a lot of time working with autistic patients and patients with developmental disabilities. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to connect to them as individuals. I try to figure out what drives them, what makes them tick. What are they trying to communicate with minimal language? It’s certainly an opportunity to use what I glean in my work.
DH: Do you get much fodder for characters in your books?
TH: More of a composite thing. In the novel I am working on there is a troubled teenager whose character was derived from experiences I had. But also a lot was derived from teaching high school.
DH: I have been reading the new biography of John Cheever. He wrote a lot about his experiences at Yaddo, a famed writers’ residence. You went there. Can you tell us about
TH: Yaddo is a wonderful work environment. It is an old mansion, that is filled with 2nd or 3rd rate art, which is good because it might have become a museum rather than a writer’s retreat. It’s located in the woods in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York.
DH: Who was there when you were there?
TH: David Means, a great short storywriter, Jackie Lydon (NPR), and others… It was dreamlike being there. We had a salon-like environment. It felt convivial.
DH: Was writing a novella a first step to writing a novel? Is there a definition of a novella?
TH: A novella is from 10,000 to 50,000 words. I don’t know anyone who has a theory of the novella. This wasn’t a first step for me. It is a pretty typical length for my work.