“Whatever you’re most afraid of showing up in your in your work, you can rest assured that it’s very nearby.”

A year ago, days after being diagnosed with COVID-19, most of what I attempted to read would thud off my forehead. I’d write emails and, giving them a quick pass before pressing send, be horrified to discover that what I’d written made less sense than fridge magnet poetry. 

In an attempt at a respite from this unnerving brain fog, from the hot poison in my lungs and the apocalyptic headlines, I sat down to resume reading Kevin Barry’s latest novel Night Boat to Tangier. I’d started the book more than a week earlier in Madrid, just before Trump declared he would close the US border and the American reverse exodus began, of which I was a part, hundreds of us standing in tight airport queues next to maskless and very ill passengers. 

Returning to Night Boat to Tangier didn’t land me back in Madrid’s last days, in a city swiftly abandoning its seemingly impenetrable and so-very-Spanish state of denial for a foreign high tension. Instead, the novel began working on me at a neurochemical level. Barry’s prose, its savage and comic lyricism, alit numbed parts of my brain, repaired damaged synapses. After each reading session, I’d feel more myself, who I’d been before contracting the virus. So, when I finished his novel, I sought out more medicine. 

Kevin Barry’s debut book, the short story collection There Are Little Kingdoms, is the work of a fully formed and original artist, and his second collection, Dark Lies the Island, further confirms Barry’s singular and distinctive voice. Still, I was unprepared for the wild ride that is his IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winning first novel City of Bohane, a western set in the future on a peninsular edge of an Irish map of Barry’s creation. It is the only book that, immediately upon finishing it, compelled me to flip to the front and start again. His second novel, Beatlebone, a fictional account of John Lennon searching for equilibrium and inspiration and an Irish island he’d purchased, proves that, among other things, Barry is on a mission to rescue the novel from redundancy and obsolescence. 

Worried I’d already exhausted Barry’s oeuvre, it’s not difficult to imagine my ecstatic fist pumping when I learned Random House would soon be publishing his third collection of short stories, That Old Country Music

The world of Kevin Barry’s fiction is populated by lovely misfits and joyfully remorseless sinners—great drinking company—and That Old Country Music continues the tradition. Among other characters, we encounter a lovelorn potential telepath who can’t not get in the way of his own happiness, an aged yet menacing mother-son drinking duo, and a pregnant teenager awaiting the return of her boyfriend (previously, her mother’s fiancée) from the petrol station he intends to rob so they can begin their new life together. In it, too, we encounter Barry’s unmistakable voice, lines like these electrifying every page: 

“The strangest thing he had learned while alone in his mid-thirties was about the length of the nights. They were never-fucking-ending. They opened like bleak continents.”

“He had a face on him like a washed dog.”

“The late October day was peeled and cool; the light was miserly by six, the last remnants clawed in weak scratches across the sky.” 

“On Inishbofin he looked to the sky and saw fires on the moon.” 

As with so many conversations these days, ours took place on Zoom.

—Julian Zabalbeascoa

THE BELIEVER: Along with short stories and novels, you also write plays. Have these unconventional and uncertain times had you focusing on one genre over any other? 

KEVIN BARRY: Yeah, actually, when we got back from South America via the scariness of Madrid airport in March, the initial first week back here I was very rattled, just checking on the news all the time, and then I decided: start a new project. I started with an idea for a TV show, essentially, a short sort of eight by twenty-five-minute kind of dark, comic business. I started concentrating on that, and it was nice. It took my mind away from the situation that was going on around. I have found the desk to be a really nice kind of reprieve, and I’ve been coming and going from various projects all year. I was talking to some writer friends last night, and we were all kind of agreeing that there is such a thing as Covid prose style. There’s a kind of a jitteriness or an anxiety just under the skin of the page. So it’s obviously affecting the work that’s coming out. I always think that writing is very close to dreaming, that they come from the same subconscious places and our dreams have all been weird this year with the pandemic. So it’s no surprise, I think, that the writing would be affected, if not the subject and just the style. I have noticed in my own work it’s hard to go for the kind of comic lines at the moment, the real boom-tish comic lines. It’s hard to lean into those right now. You think, Who am I fucking kidding? There’s an unprecedented plague going on. But I find generally it’s a reprieve. Like all writers say, the texture of the day isn’t very much different. I’m at home all the time anyway in a rural place, so it doesn’t look very different out the window. It’s just cows and fields and rain. So that’s all the same. 

BLVR: To that, the internet was already reducing our attention spans but Covid’s exacerbated this. Do you have any techniques for keeping your focus on the writing desk? 

KB: I’ve essentially convinced myself of two things. One, that there is a God and, two, that she only turns on the internet at 12 noon. I’ve got these two things. So I don’t go online in the morning. I don’t check my phone. I don’t leave it in the bedroom, no devices are allowed. And I just stay in the analog offline world until 12 noon, and that’s plenty enough to give me the space to write before I go to the jittery online mode. I find if I go there first thing in the morning, my mind is whirring at that online pace. You’re a data processor, essentially, and it’s not a good place to be if you’re trying to get into the kind of deeper space, the concentrated space of trying to write fiction or a script or whatever it is. My own rule is to just stay offline in the morning. Because if I don’t, I won’t write well, and I probably won’t write at all, in fact. I manage to stick to it most of the time.

BLVR: This is your third short story collection, and first in eight years. Acknowledging that every new work presents a new set of problems, what do you know now that you didn’t when writing your first stories?

KB: So yeah, I’ve been writing stories in a serious way for a little over 20 years now, probably since about ’98, ’99. I was in my late twenties. And I think because it’s the first collection in eight years—the earliest in the new collection was written in 2012 and the most recent was written in February this year—it’s long enough a period of time to see yourself changing as a writer. I’ve calmed down, I think, a little bit in terms of the prose style. I’m less inclined to try and subvert my natural lyricism. There’s always a lyric urge in the work. Previously when I was a younger writer, if I had a lyric passage in a piece of fiction, I would immediately try to barb it thereafter with some sort of a piss-taking line or some kind of funny line just to show you I know this is lyric, and I know the language is a little ripe. Now I’m more inclined to see if I can get away with it and just go with it and not be too afraid to allow feeling into the stories. In one of my previous novels, Beatlebone, there’s a line about writing. It says whatever you’re most afraid of showing up in your in your work, you can rest assured that it’s very nearby. I’ve always been terrified of a sentimental note coming into my work, so I can rest assured it’s very nearby, and I have to walk a very fine line between getting feeling into the work and then not allowing it to become in any way sentimental in a negative sense.

BLVR: That’d be a good place to get into some of the stories. For “The Coast of Leitrim,” were you surprised by the turns it continued to take? 

KB: Very. If I had written that story ten years ago, I’m sure it would have had a very different finish. It would have had blood on the walls. It seemed to be going in a dark direction, even as I was writing it, so I was quite surprised in the closing stretch that the matinee strings were swelling, and thinking: Jesus fuck for the first time after twenty years I’m going to have a happy ending. Even though that in itself is kind of subverted by the story because a little before the ending we’re told that Seamus, the character, can handle just about anything shy of a happy outcome. So we don’t know if he’s going to be able to deal with the happiness when it comes. But writing a romance has all sorts of difficulties. I got that story in the immediate aftermath of finishing the previous novel Night Boat to Tangier. I found that when you finish your novel, all systems are firing, and you can kind of squeeze an extra bit of work out of yourself. When I finished the novel before that, I got a story in the following week. I do think that writing has a lot in common with physical fitness. When you finish a long project, you’re fit at the desk and you can get more out of you. If you stop, as we all know, and let it go, the really hard part is getting your fitness back. If you have it, it’s not too bad to maintain it just to keep it taking over. So I very calculatedly cleared the month after I finished the novel to write a story, and I got “The Coast of Leitrim” inside the month. Most of them don’t work out, the stories. I would say out of every ten I try, one or two will ever get outside the door, and it’s kind of depressing.

BLVR: What happens to those other eight? Do they lie around? 

KB: They lie around in a state of advanced melancholy. 

BLVR: Do you mine them for parts?

KB: I do mine them for parts. I practice authorial thrift and I go in and I see if any characters might be useful somewhere else, if I can make anything of them, and sometimes I will take two half dead zombie stories and try to weld them together in my mad professor’s laboratory. I kind of have a superstitious belief that you should finish all the stories that come along, even the bad ones, even if you know it’s never going to make it out the door or make it into a publication or anything because you earn the good ones by finishing the bad ones. I know that it’s a cliché, but you learn a lot from your failures on the page.

BLVR: Do you stick with the bad ones believing that with the next paragraph you’ll be able to get it on the right track?

KB: It’s difficult to do. I always compare it to the tightrope walk. Every sentence and step along—if you misplace your footing just once, it can be really hard to get the story to kind of feel right again. It’s very often you’ll get a great start, you know, for a page and a half you’re like: oh, yeah, this is the one, this is 400 words of glorious stuff. This is going to be great. And you go back to it the next morning, and it’s just kind of expired in the night. It’s hard. They’re unpredictable. You have to keep practicing at them. I’m pretty dedicated to the form at this stage. I knew, actually, that publishing a third collection of stories is a bit of a statement. If you publish a second collection it could almost be an accident. “He had a few left over.” Publishing a third collection is making it look like you’re a lifer, that you got to keep on with this kind of pretty generally unprofitable line of business. But I have a congenital impatience as a writer that the form suits, because you can always be lucky. You can always inside a week or so get a good story. And one of the nicest feelings I’ve had in my writing life is when a story has worked, as it does on those rare occasions. It keeps you going back to the zombie stories and the half dead legions lying around the floor.

BLVR: Speaking of those nice feelings. How satisfying is it to end a story with some variation of the word fuck?

KB: Hugely satisfying. I think the profanity in my work comes very directly out of the profanity of Irish life. And it’s interesting to think about why there is such profanity in Irish life and just everyday common discourse. People from other countries really do blanch when they hear the way we speak. It’s a very defensive use of language, profanity, you know, in the very casual Irish way of throwing F-words and C-words into every piece of casual discourse. There’s hundreds of years of class and religion and colonial history contained in this decision to make this. It’s a defensive use of language from a very defensive people because of our history. And I think a lot as well actually about when I’m dealing with new characters in a story or a novel or wherever, as there’s a lot of talk in my work, so I’m trying to think about how they sound, but I’m also very conscious about how they’re physically holding themselves. What level of a front to the world is in their stance? Very often I’m writing about Irish men from working class backgrounds, which is my own background. And the physical stance is often very defensive, a kind of shoulder-on kind of stance, you’re very knotted, very tense kind of hold. And, again, in that stance there are hundreds of years of history, class, religion, colonial history, you know, and it results in this clenched tense, knotted pose, and that comes into the language, resultingly, and it comes out in profanity. That said, I also just love throwing in a nice F word. 

BLVR: In Beatlebone you write about your ambition to “report my findings in a mature, honed prose, as clear as glass: this from a man who had never knowingly underfed an adjective.” Where does this impulse to write in a clear prose, away from your style, come from, and was this your intention with the story “Roma Kid”?

KB: Yeah. That’s interesting. I think what you yearn to be able to do in your work is generally what you can’t do. I struggled to get to the clear clean as a bone stage with the prose. It is quite stripped down in “Roma Kid.” I was trying to keep it very strict. That was a story that could cross that tricky line into sentimentality very easily. And when it’s about a young girl running away from home, you’re in dangerous ground, and then when it decides to become a kind of fairy story where she enters the woods and meets an elf-like old man, you’re in extreme danger if you let the language go anywhere in the direction of rightness. So the only way to get away with a proposition like that story was to go as tight as I could on the individual sentences and keep them purely concerned with the action, of what was occurring step by step along the way. It was one of the older stories that I’d written, probably about seven years ago. It’s never an entirely pleasant job to look back at your stuff, you know, and not just stories from seven years ago, like things you wrote last Tuesday can horrify you. Things you wrote at 11 o’clock this morning and thought were genius, and you could look at and go, “Oh, God. More of it.” It’s educational for sure to see yourself change as a writer, to see your approaches change. And you can see things that you’d be able to do much better now. But then you also can sense things like a youthful buoyancy in the language that maybe you’re not capable of at this point, so it’s kind of melancholy business looking back over old stories.

BLVR: These stories, with one exception, take place in County Sligo, right outside your window. In the story “Old Stock” you write: “the central philosophy underpinning all of my work was that places exerted their own feelings.” What are those feelings emitting from County Sligo? How do you remain tuned to receive them? And any anecdotes of neighbors recognizing themselves in your stories?

KB: I’m sure possibly two here and there but they might be too polite to take me up on it. I’ve lived in County Sligo for thirteen years now, since 2007. Your stories definitely follow you around in the world. There tends to be a lag period between your everyday physical experience and what shows up in the work. Often for me six or seven years before my immediate surroundings and stuff start to show up, and that’s the case with these stories. Most now were set around the interior northwest of Ireland, where I live. One of the odd things about Ireland is it’s geographically a small island. You drive the length of it in five hours and you drive the breadth of it in three hours. It’s a small wet rock at the edge of the Atlantic, but it changes very much within small distances in the way people speak and in their sense of humor and in the mood. The northwest, where I live now, it’s a more kind of melancholy, a more haunted feeling than you would get in the southern Irish cities where I grew up, in Limerick and in Cork. The humor is less antic and more kind of deadpan and straight faced. There’s a sense once you get off the coast road which is, you know, popular in the summer with surfers and with tourism and all of that, that it’s a very quiet landscape, a landscape that once held many more people than it does now. So much of our character as people is influenced by forces that are so big we almost can’t see them. Psychologically, it’s a maritime climate. We live on the edge of this great malevolent ocean and it affects our character on a daily basis. The skies are ever changing, constantly going into different variations of angry grey. And it has an effect. I often think, if you were to embody the west of Ireland as a person and asked to describe his or her character, you would say rattled. This is a discombobulated individual. But, yeah, I do believe that human feeling settles into and resides in our places, on particular street corners, in particular fields, on the sides of certain hills. I just want to make something in response to the feeling of a particular place. A story will almost always start with a place as the initial prompt.

BLVR: For me, no other writer better identifies the ways in which weather penetrates and informs a character’s soul. 

KB: I think probably in every story I’ve ever written the reader is very dutifully informed what the weather is doing. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with weather, even more so since I moved to a rural place thirteen years ago, where you know what’s going on in the weather outside. It’s going to very much affect your mood and day and what you can do. No, I think I’m able to deal with all shades of Irish in the work. It sounds almost like a pat thing to say, but the climate here explains a lot about the fact that there are so many Irish writers, that it’s something we’re kind of known for and good at. Because for a large chunk of the year it’s a dreary fucking climate. It’s damp and wet and grey, and you’re indoors and you need to become a fabulist. You need to make up stories and you need to keep yourself sane. I’m just looking behind you out the window where darkness has fallen on the County Sligo swamp. We’ve gotten into a time of the year here which I call Brown Season. We don’t really get snow, everything is just bare and dormant, and there’s a sense of the place having gone to sleep. Sometimes there are times of the year like this when it can seem like it’s not giving you very much back as a writer that you can make work from. You kind of have to prod and poke it to wake it up. But it turns out to be a very important creative decision in your life: where am I going to live. And I live in a swamp in an old police station in the rural northwest because it’s a cheap mortgage, and it means I don’t have to work, apart from at my writing. If I lived in Dublin, I’d probably have to teach or whatever, and I don’t here. Being in this place, it’s not ideal in some ways and in terms of the vitality it’s giving you during certain parts of the year, but there’s a lot to be said for just getting to go to my shed every day and making up my little worlds and stories. And I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to do that since my first book of stories come out in 2007. It’s a rare achievement to be able to live purely by writing fiction.

BLVR: You escape the Irish weather by going down to Spain every year, or at least you had been, but these days you pop over to Uruguay. Having written your Spanish book [Night Boat to Tangier] are you now tentatively doing location scouting in Uruguay?

KB: I wouldn’t put it past me. Uruguay is very vivid terrain, I must say. It’s a great country. Actually, it’s fantastic. It reminds me of Ireland about thirty years ago. It has a kind of an analog feeling to it still and a kind of a blessed unspoiled feeling. They don’t get that many visitors really. People who go to that part of South America tend to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the occasional day trip across. You get amazing beaches. There’s a lot of surfing. But, yeah, I have been down there over the last couple of years thinking, God, this could be a great setting for a crime series of novels in Montevideo. For about twenty years I’ve been going to Spain in the winter when the Atlantic cloud really thickens and comes down and you can’t see your garden gate, essentially. So I would escape in January or February for as many kind of days or weeks or even months, sometimes, as I could afford. And slowly but surely you pick up on the texture of a place. And inside the last four or five years, I started to ask myself, “Where’s my Spain book. How will I get a Spain novel?” And I couldn’t figure it out until I decided just to put two Irish gangsters down there. Put two Irishman there and that means I had the voices.

BLVR: You had those two characters bothering you for quite a while, intruding into other stories. Was the Port of Algeciras also something you had in mind for some time, as well? The first thing I knew about Night Boat to Tangier was that it took place at that port, and my immediate response was: “Of course! Why hadn’t anybody thought of that before?”

KB: I was quite disappointed late in the writing of the book, I went back down to the Port of Algeciras, and I was doing some writing in the ferry terminal, and they’ve cleaned it up a bit and modernized it. It used to be genuinely really one of the armpits of the universe. 

BLVR: Exactly. It should have been preserved like a UNESCO heritage site.

KB: I know. It’s one of the two seediest, most dangerous feeling places I’ve ever been, the other being the greyhound station in Los Angeles in the late 90’s. I first passed through Algeciras in about 1990 or ’91 on my way to Tangier for reasons that were entirely related to William Burroughs. I was at the point in my life where Burroughs was a big thing, and I went with some friends and paid homage. We stayed at the hotel where he wrote Naked Lunch, the Hotel El Muniria, which gets mentioned in my book Tangier. But after that trip, I could never remember very much about the tangerine part of the trip, probably because of the amount of fine Moroccan hashish I was imbibing while I was there, but I thought a lot about the Port of Algeciras. That remained very vividly with me for years, and then I had these two fading Cork city gangsters Maurice and Charlie showing up in my office all the time, trying to get into stories. These two wisecracking Cork gangsters, and I didn’t know what to do with them. And eventually, I said, “Ah fuck it.” They were destroying every story they came into because they were too big as characters. They were too vivid, too loud. They were talking too much. I eventually realized: I have to give them their own thing. I have to find out who they are and write them in the round and get past the kind of caricature stage with them, see if I can make them believable as real people. And the idea to put them down into the Algeciras ferry terminal gave me a lovely kind of resounding click. It’s when characters, cast, and location come together in your mind that, you think, I have something I can work with here. You know there are historical reasons, as well, why it would work. There was a long-standing hashish trade from North Africa to the west of Ireland from the ’70’s through to the era of hydroponics where they just started growing weed in greenhouses in the west of Ireland, as it happens. That old hashish route has taken on an elegiacal air. It doesn’t really exist to the same extent anymore. It gave the book a certain kind of a poignant comedy, as well, because it means our gangsters are outmoded, they’re out of time, and they have to try and find themselves anew in the world. 

BLVR: The only story in the collection not set in Ireland returns your readers to Spain [“Extremadura (Until Night Falls)”]. The story’s protagonist could have easily crossed paths with Dilly [from Night Boat to Tangier] at some point. 

KB: Wouldn’t be surprised.

BLVR: Is Spain a country that you will continue to write about? Also, when there, what are your favorite dishes and places to visit? 

KB: I have great feeling for it. In my mind, it’s very connected with my own kind of literary trials and travails. When I’d go there from late ’90s, early 2000’s, I was trying to write fiction often when I was down there—not succeeding and not coming up with anything that was going out the door. But, again, it reminds me a lot, especially when I’m in the south of Spain, around Andalucía, the feeling, the atmosphere, and the air of those cities reminds me a lot of the Ireland I grew up in. Catholicism is still a much more pronounced atmosphere on the air in those cities than it is in Ireland. You see nuns everywhere still, for example, in Spain. I love the south. I love Granada very much. I’m pretty happy to find myself in a little cafe bar in Granada eating grilled baby octopuses, the chipitos. Nothing finer than those little bits of squid with lots of lemon juice and black pepper and garlic. That’s pretty nice. And gambas. The gambas! I had a phase, because the seafood is so good in Andalucía, I went there one year on one of my trips for about a four-week period and I decided I was going to be entirely pescatarian. But it had a dramatically bad effect in that I started to become, day and night, just full of sexual imagery. Just from eating all this fish I got myself into a dramatically overheated condition. And I remember the day I got back to Ireland going into a cafe and getting a full Irish breakfast with loads of pork products, with like rashers and sausages and black pudding, and that settled me. But that pescatarian diet, I don’t recommend it. 

BLVR: Or maybe for those who rely on the little blue pills. 

KB: Just go on the gambas and the chipitos.

BLVR: You’ve described those books you most admire as mountain top books and tuning forks. Which ones are they for you? 

KB: In terms of stuff I go back to repeatedly, there’s a book that sits on my desk which is Anthony Burgess’ Little Wilson and Big God. It’s the first half of his memoir. It’s above all a glorious portrait of an Irish Catholic family in 1920s Manchester. He grew up in a family of a pub keepers and tobacconists. It’s just a glorious, vivid, self-serving memoir. Burgess is an example of the great all-rounder. He wrote everything. He showed up in every newspaper in the world writing about something. He’d be reviewing skis in some newspaper in Switzerland, then he’d be reviewing medieval poetry in the Times Literary Supplement, and he would write symphonies, as well as novels and short stories and everything. He said himself there’s a traditional distrust of the all-rounder, someone who has a go at everything. I’m congenitally an all-rounder. I would try anything. I’m never daunted. I think that the distrust is kind of earned of these writers who would chance anything and resolutely not stay in their own lane. But I really like to move around forms, because you can unexpectedly help yourself in one form by working in another. I had a project that never got anywhere, which was an attempt at a graphic novel with an artist, a Spanish friend, who was doing the pictures. We never got past a chapter or two, but I learned a lot about writing short stories from looking at the way he drew stories. I learned how much of the scaffolding you can take away, and that’s a really interesting experience. In terms of other kinds of sacred books, I go back to the great American essayist Annie Dillard quite a bit. Famous things like Pilgrim and Tinker Creek, also things like Holy the Firm, which I have absolutely no idea what goes on in that book or what it’s about, but I just glory in her sentences. As I do with Hilary Mantel, especially the Cromwell books. All of which are magnificent. The second one in the trilogy Bring Up the Bodies is a magnificent novel. She’s an experimental novelist who has achieved a huge mainstream success, but at heart she’s an experimental novelist. She does really interesting things with point of view. She’s got Godly technique. She’s fabulous. And I remain a daily or at least a nightly reader of poetry. It’s very important to me to keep up with it. I think it’s good for your brain to continue to try and learn poems by heart, which I try to do a bit. I go back to favorite poets a lot. I go back to a lot of the American mid-20th century stuff. Lowell and Bishop. Roethke, a guy who shows up in my new book. I go back a lot to Philip Larkin. So those are some of the fundamentals. In terms of Irish writing, lots of a Flann O’Brien from the mid-20th century. Dermot Healy from later on.

BLVR: For uninitiated Americans interested in exploring the literature being produced in Ireland these days, what books or authors would you recommend?

KB: I would say, in the first instance, look at particular presses, small independent presses in Ireland. The Stinging Fly Press published my first book of stories, they kind of specialize in the short story, and they’ve published great debut collections over the last twelve to fifteen years. Tramp Press published two of my favorite books this year. And then look at the journals like The Stinging Fly and The Dublin Review. It’s the one thing we’re world class at. There’s nothing else the Irish people are world class at but we’re good at writing fiction. 

BLVR: Like Dilly in Night Boat to Tangier following her father(s)’ example, losing and saving herself in Spain, the stories in this collection present us with characters caught in cycles – familial, cultural, historical. It plays out comically and ultimately tenderly in the title story, and I think of “Ox Mountain Death Song,” where Canavan and Sergeant Brown are caught in roles that are beyond them and tragic and recurring—the language, too, in that story follows suit, various words and images and phrases repeating themselves. What is it about characters caught in cycles that draws you?

KB: Yeah, I think, fundamentally, my view is pessimistic, but my pessimism is expressed in the form of black comedy often. The desired effect often I’m looking for the reader is to chuckle and to laugh all the way through a story, and in the end to go, “What the fuck we laughing at there?” I think it’s a fundamentally dark outlook, which is that I’m a typically Irish storyteller in that way. It almost launches into the gothic at times. But, again, it’s a note I can see changing slightly over the course of the years. Writing in the short form, you see yourself almost becoming a little bit more forgiving of your characters. I think every character I write is caught in the same comic dilemma, which is they can’t step out of the shadow of their own past. They can never get past the blood, and they can never get past their background, and they’re constantly striving to break out of that shadow. It lends itself to the comic situation. I think every novel I’ve written and every story I’ve written is essentially about people who can’t escape their own past.

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