Is Colson Whitehead Stuck on Novel #4?

From New York Magazine: “Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days, The Colossus of New York, and Apex Hides the Hurt, is currently holed up in the bistros of his neighborhood, Fort Greene, at work on his next novel, which is about a teenager who subsists on TV dinners and toils at an ice-cream parlor (the novelist’s traumatic summers in a Hamptons scoop shop are documented in his New York Times essay ‘Eat Memory, I Scream’).”

Now this seems a bit suspicious to me. First off, a novelist shouldn’t be in the business of describing an unfinished work. And when pressed by an interviewer, the novelist should probably just say, “Yeah, I’m working on something. Next question.”

But in this instance, Whitehead has offered an answer. And it isn’t “a teenager overcoming a personal obstacle” or “a teenager who comes of age.” No, the great human angle on this story is “a teenager who subsists on TV dinners and toils at an ice-cream parlor,” suggesting that cultural reference comes before character development or that Whitehead is riding the great food crutch that many writers dwell on during a gestation period.Of course, it’s probably unfair of me to read so closely into an answer like this. Nevertheless, after the lackluster Apex Hides the Hurt (a passable novel, but lackluster in comparison to his two previous books), I worry about Whitehead’s ability to deliver.

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2 Comments

  1. After his second book, the elevator one, can’t recall the title, sorry–I read an interview with him in Poets and Writers where he said he could write (The Intuitionist! That’s it!) anywhere, anytime. That large parts of his first novel were written at his mother’s kitchen table with the radio blaring. So maybe he just likes the stimulus of bistros?

  2. I haven’t read “John Henry Days” yet — I know that’s your favorite — but I think “Apex” is as good as “The Intuitionist.”

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