Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Matthew Gallaway

Matthew Gallaway is a writer originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He now lives in New York City.

His recently released debut novel is The Metropolis Case.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished (for the second time, because it's a favorite of mine) the first volume of The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. Written in the 1930s, the novel takes a somewhat satirical look at Vienna in the years leading up to the first world war, when a committee is assembled under the leadership of striving aristocratic idealist (the wife of a mid-level diplomat) to celebrate the 75th year in power of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. As you might expect from the title, there's a detached, frank quality to the prose and observations that generally makes it feel as much like a philosophical treatise as a literary drama (I mean this in a good way); it's less likely that you will be "swept away" by the unfolding story here and more likely that you will find moments of enlightenment and beauty in Musil's discussion of his characters' psychologies and their relation to the society in which they live, particularly in his understated but often-breathtaking use of simple but poetic metaphor, e.g., "irrationalism...haunts our era like a night bird lost in the dawn." I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the interaction -- sometimes elegant, sometimes chaotic -- between ideas and reality in modern culture.

In books I read and loved that were published this year (or in 2010): Light Boxes by Shane Jones is a a short, amazingly textured novel in the form of a post-modern fairy tale or fable about a small town whose inhabitants decide to wage war on February. In addition to a period of time — namely the month so many of us know and dread — February in this book is cold and sad and indefinite in duration, and may or may not also be a god or a misunderstood man, an outcast who terrorizes the townspeople with snow and ice (and moss!), leading to the end of flight (paper airplanes, balloons, and kites) and more sinisterly to the kidnapping and murder of children. To read Light Boxes is like having a dream (and one of the miracles of this book is that it feels like the reader’s dream, not Jones’ or even one of the character’s) in which your unconscious communicates with you via an array of signs and symbols.

In Darin Strauss's memoir Half a Life, Strauss as a 40-something year-old man confronts an event from his past that I suspect would be impossible to really fathom for those who have not experienced it: as a high-school senior, he was driving on a road near his house on Long Island, when a girl (also from his high school) on a bike, for no apparent reason, swerved directly in front of his car (two lanes over) and was killed in the resulting collision. (This is not a spoiler, by the way.) While there was no question of negligence on Strauss's part (although predictably, there was a lawsuit involving the worst, most predatory kind of lawyers), the accident and its aftermath (both short- and long-term) haunted him in many ways, all of which he examines in the book with candor and insight (and beauty) as he digs back and assesses (and reassesses) what did and did not happen to him as a result. The book is both harrowing and gripping; you won't want to put it down. In the end, it becomes less about an accident and something more universal and transcendent by offering readers the hope that, with enough effort, we might also achieve a kind of ambivalence with regard to the past, by acknowledging its power but dismissing its tyranny.
Read an excerpt from The Metropolis Case, and learn more about the book and author at Matthew Gallaway's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Metropolis Case.

My Book, The Movie: The Metropolis Case.

--Marshal Zeringue