His first novel, Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery (Penguin Random House) features a young Walt Whitman’s as he finds himself in the middle of body-snatchers, medical students, and the law.
Recently I asked Sanders about what he was reading. His reply:
The Open Curtain by Brian EvensonVisit J. Aaron Sanders's website.
The Open Curtain opens when Rudd Theurer discovers a box containing letters and books that belonged to his dead father. In the letters, Rudd learns of his father’s affair, and a possible child from that affair; and in the books he finds marginalia that highlight his father’s obsession with blood atonement, a 19th century Mormon ritual aimed at apostates, gentiles, and sinners. The letters and books also help Rudd understand the reasons his father committed suicide—his father slit his throat to atone for his infidelity—and inspires Rudd’s quest to find his half-brother. Soon after he meets Lael, things go odd and Rudd finds himself involved in the grisly campsite murders, struggling to negotiate the past and the present, and losing himself in the process.
I remember telling a friend that the feeling I get when I read an Evenson story is the same feeling I get when I see a photograph of punk rocker G.G. Allin. Allen started every show by pounding his head with his microphone until all the scabs (from the previous show) on his head were bleeding. And then he took off all his clothes.
Reading Evenson’s work is experiential. It gets into you in ways that other writers simply don’t. It’s not something I like to read all the time—it’s too intense—but when I do I know I’ve landed in a different place all together.
The Page 69 Test: Speakers of the Dead.