Matthew Sharpe is most recently the author of You Were Wrong. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #132.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abandoning the animal experiment.
Author: Matthew Sharpe
Subjects Discussed: [The truth of the matter is that there doesn’t appear to be enough time in the day for me to summarize subjects anymore . Again, I am sorry and can only offer the lame “forthcoming” answer. Please beat me with a pool cue should we next meet, if this proves unsatisfactory for your capsule needs.]
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Does this improvisational nature explain in part why the book is so violent? I mean, it has the rather extremely creative usage of a pool cue against a gentleman’s head. Which I thought was a very idiosyncratic form of violence. I’m curious why the book was so violent, number one. Number two, how you settled on the pool cue to the head?
Correspondent: That’s not an easy thing to do, you know. The head is going to move around.
Sharpe: It’s not an easy thing to…
Correspondent: To hit the head, yes.
Sharpe: To brain someone with a pool cue?
Correspondent: Yeah, I know.
Sharpe: Well, if it’s an old guy and he’s not expecting it. (laughs) Let’s see, why was it so violent? That’s a really hard question to answer. I really — it’s not a part of my temperament as a social being or even as a private individual in this house. For whatever reason, when I write fiction, I guess I’m on the lookout for conflicts. And in some way, pain and impediments — as my friend the writer Lynne says, the body is the first and last metaphor. And if you want to show someone in difficulties, show somebody whose body is being impinged upon.
Correspondent: But you also are playing a bit of a marionette with these characters — the characters serve as marionettes. Because you often have Sylvia, for example, you are extremely specific about the way she sits on the bed, about her posture. And speaking of the body, there’s also much imagery with the face. Particularly with relation to Karl and how he views people. In fact, one of the curious things about this book that I have to ask you about is that Karl perceives Sylvia only in terms of the color and the generic item of clothing. Like “a blue shirt” and “an indigo bra” or what not. And that goes on throughout the entire book. There’s probably about seven or eight of them. So how did you arrive at that generic syntax? That shorthand for Karl perceiving Sylvia? And what of this idea of these characters placed in very specific forms of posture? I mean, to some degree, it’s very hyperspecific. To some degree, it’s almost mathlike in its generic description as well. From Karl’s perspective.
Sharpe: Yeah. Wow, you notice stuff that nobody else notices by the way. So I have to think about these answers. But I just actually want to circle back to a question I didn’t answer, which is the pool cue. You know, I really wanted to place the pool table and the piano next to each other. Because I wanted this very much to be a novel about a bourgeois home. Of the kind that I grew up in. Though luckily I didn’t grow up with the kind of family that Karl had.
Correspondent: (laughs) I would hope not!
Sharpe: But I was thinking at that moment of the beating on the head of John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. Which I’m sort of deciding whether to give away a major plot surprise. I think I probably won’t give it away. But that’s a play in which a guy walks into a bar in a strange town at the beginning, having just beaten his father with some kind of implement. I can’t remember what kind. But he beats him in the head. And so I was thinking, okay, how do I transpose Synge’s rural Irish play to Long Island at the beginning of the 21st century? And I thought, okay, I actually can’t remember right now what he beats him with. Maybe a farming implement? So I’m thinking, okay, what would be handy in a house like this? So that’s the answer to that question.
About the careful description of the people’s bodies and their posture, I think I just became fascinated through Karl’s eyes with the body of his beloved. Which he is very, very attuned to. Because he really, really digs it. And he’s constantly looking at it. He just is fascinated by her body. And Karl knowing in a sense that maybe he has something like what we could call Asperger’s. Or some kind of weird disorder where he’s not very good at reading faces. He’s always trying super hard to read faces and he really thinks, “If I can only learn the vocabulary of facial expressions, I will finally be able to decipher what the hell people are ever intending toward me.”
(Image: Felicia C. Sullivan)