Friday, December 26, 2014

Casey Walker

Casey Walker has a PhD in English Literature from Princeton University. His essays and short fiction have appeared in The Believer, Esquire, Narrative, Boston Review and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He lives in Iowa with his wife, novelist Karen Thompson Walker. Several trips he’s made to China, including one accompanying a delegation of officials from a small California city, laid some of the groundwork for his new novel, Last Days in Shanghai.

Earlier this month I asked Walker about what he was reading. His reply:
The most recent book I read with total purposelessness—that is, not Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I re-read for the course I’m teaching; not Assembling California, by John McPhee, which I started as research for a new novel; and not Goodnight, Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which I read daily to my wide-eyed daughter—is Jenny Offill’s fractured and beautifully broken novel Dept. of Speculation. Offill assembles the novel from riveting moments of attention, often no more than a paragraph or a few lines long. Her style reminds me a little bit of Mary Robison, gem-like sentences in an arrangement always on the cusp of disorder. The narrator of Offill’s book is a new mother and the novel has the most brilliant way of rendering the dizzy, sleepless, animal world that newborns and their parents inhabit: “The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.” Careful observations like this are stitched together with language in a different, more philosophical register: “A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.” It’s a compelling, exciting alternation, and it makes haunting and lovely reading.
Follow Casey Walker on Twitter.

Learn more about Last Days in Shanghai at the Counterpoint Press website.

The Page 69 Test: Last Days in Shanghai.

--Marshal Zeringue