Recently I asked McGevna about what he was reading. His reply:
Most recently I read Anthony Marra’s stunning debut A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I first discovered Marra back when I subscribed to Narrative Magazine. They published his Pushcart Prize-winning short story “Chechnya.” I was profoundly moved by that short story. I have an older sister who moved out before we got a chance to really bond as siblings, and the delicate and fragile way Marra captures the dynamic between two sisters separated by circumstance was only enriched by the amazing education I received about Chechnya.Visit Matthew McGevna's website.
He continued that education of post-Soviet Russia with A Constellation. The dynamic between sisters, neighbors, father and son: it’s all there. Set against an unnerving backdrop of violence and uncertainty. The plot is somewhat streamlined, and that makes way for the characters to really fill out the panoramic view of the Chechen conflict, the struggle for survival, the way militancy and depravation can make little Judases out of all of us. And the closing image of the book will knock you over. I won’t divulge; you should run out and secure a copy of it. Some rainy days are coming.
Right now I’m reading This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Díaz, much for the same reason I read Marra’s work. I like works of literature that tackle serious human issues but are set in a time and place that is foreign to me. I like to learn from a book, not only how to live, but how people I’ve never met might live. I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic until I read Díaz. I’m that white person who was too white for his MFA experience. But isn’t that cultural discomfort, that chasm of misunderstanding among people the very thing fiction can be purposed to remedy? I’m thankful for having read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I’m grateful to Díaz for writing it. (Even if I still don’t know how to pronounce “Wao”) To me, it seems almost the purpose of fiction and the responsibility of art: to cause that tension of the mind and heart when we encounter a world that is not our own. It forces us to see familiar subjects with new eyes.
As a writer, I read fiction also to become inspired. A turn of phrase, a devastating image, a poignant section of dialogue—these can often send me running back to my keyboard. As we all know, writing is a solitary endeavor and sometimes I get damned near the point where I throw my hands up and wonder why I bother. Then I read these mentioned works, or the lyrical prose of Stewart O’Nan or the organic and rich storytelling of Louise Erdrich and I clap the book closed and say, ‘Yes, this is why we create works of art.’ Art is the celebration and I’m fortunate to be a part of that celebration.