I was working in a bar and I suddenly had this vivid image of myself at sixty, still in the bar, still talking about the novel I was going to write someday. So I said to myself, “Sit down now and finish something. It doesn’t matter what. Just start it at the beginning, write through the middle and reach the end and then stop.” And that was that book. It came out very quickly. And it’s true. It does contain some of the people I seem to have continued to write about. Boys looking for something, women looking for a way out. I never felt good about that book, because I wrote it too fast. Because I knew it wasn’t the best book I could write. I’ve always felt that literature and reading have so many enemies—and writers are the very least of the enemies of writing and reading. But I do sometimes find myself looking through the books in a bookstore and galleys people have sent me, thinking, you could have done better than this. You did not put your ass on the line. Here’s just another book taking up space in the universe, and this is part of what is making it hard to keep books alive in the world. They just stack up like cordwood. I’m so much more interested in some kind of grand ambitious failure than I am in someone’s modest little success that achieves its modest little aims. I felt that I had written a book like that, and I wasn’t happy about it. My publisher very generously allowed me to turn down a paperback offer and it has really gone away.
19 June 2007
Michael Cunningham on his first novel, Golden States: