Friday, March 5, 2010

Sujatha Hampton

All Sujatha Hampton ever wanted to be was a novelist. Her first book, As It Was Written, was published in February by Thomas Dunne Books.

Last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now, honestly, I am rereading my own novel, As It Was Written, for perhaps the millionth time. I’m looking for excerpts to read for various audiences. Some stuff is better left unread in certain venues. I’m doing some readings in schools; there are paragraphs I’d best not touch in front of the PTA.

But before this I was reading Theft by Peter Carey. I loved this book, and it was a fascinating discovery that I loved it despite the absolute fact that I was not particularly sympathetic with either of the main characters. The last novel I think I loved though I really didn’t find any one character likeable was A Confederacy of Dunces. It is a wonder to be so vastly talented that the reader simply doesn’t need to feel the characters to love the book.

Before this I was reading Possession by A. S. Byatt, which is brilliant and awesome, in the true sense of the word. There is a foreboding, brooding danger through the book and yet it is a literary mystery. Why should I feel dread over the lives of dead poets? And yet…I did. Marvelous.

I believe I was reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union before that and this now ranks as one of my favorite novels of all time. Chabon creates an entire world of brilliant, downtrodden, desperate and talented Alaskan refugee Jews that is at once heartbreaking and hilarious. These days, we are rarely allowed novels of this sweeping and audacious quality. It seems publishers worry that readers will not come along on such a daring ride anymore. Books like The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, like Winter’s Tale by Helprin, like A Confederacy of Dunces by Toole, like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, they are falling away. Our books become shorter and shorter, less and less complicated, less and less extraordinary. The powers that be are afraid of the dwindling attention spans of Americans; they cut characters right and left. They slash whole story lines to get to the pith of it, when perhaps what was not pithy, but certainly meaty, was what would propel the story into the place that legends live.

I do seek out the great and delicious books, and I read them with my mouth agog and my heart thumping in my chest. It is a rare gift these days, that kind of story. I must say, it was what I was hoping for when I wrote my own novel. Time will tell if I succeeded.
Visit Sujatha Hampton's website and the publisher's webpage for As It Was Written.

--Marshal Zeringue