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William Brewer: “The Red Arrow is not a drug book, but…” | imaginary

WEliam Brewer, 33, is the author of I know your type (2017), A collection of poems about poverty and drug addiction in West Virginia, where he was born and raised. Chosen for Prestigious National Poetry Series In the United States, he was cited as the inspiration of Ocean FongIt was described by New York The Journal of America’s Opioid Crisis Award-Winning Poet. Psychiatry, debt, and quantum gravity were among the themes of his first novel, red arrowNarrated by a troubled ghost writer who urgently searches for a vanishing Italian physicist who must hand over his diary. Brewer, who teaches creative writing at Stanford UniversityHe spoke to me via Zoom from Oakland, California, his home since 2016.

where red arrow the beginning?
I really started writing in 2019 after I finally went through psychedelic treatment for the depression that has dominated my life for so long. I was able to write in a way I had never done before because my mind was so cloudy. Therapy showed me all the ways depression managed the symptom. It was hard to realize the extent to which the disease had allowed me to harm the people I cared about. I had a dose of psilocybin mushrooms at 10am, and by 4.30pm it felt like a 50-pound tumor had been torn off my back. I wanted to carry this energy into writing.

red arrow It is not a book about drugs, but it attempts to capture certain qualities of the narcotic experience, one of which is the complete destruction of sin. A lot of times when people try to write about it, they write incoherent and distracting text, like something from the era of beats, but the psychedelic experience can actually be very straightforward: it’s not so much a crazy, crazy light show as an elegant suggestion of how things are related. Psilocybin, in particular, gives you that real sense of momentum, and I wanted that for the book.

Is this why the narrator is put on a high-speed train for most of it?
Yes, I wanted a sound that felt pushed, and so did I had a very simple idea to put it into something that was literally moving quickly through space. When I showed the book to a friend after writing it, he mentioned District [a novel by Mathias Énard, also narrated during a train journey through Italy], which I still haven’t read. My narrator is on an Italian train because I was going there myself. I didn’t even know”Freccia Rosa” [Italy’s high-speed train service] It means “red arrow”. All the physics and time arrow related things in the book were a happy coincidence. I am against planning. I follow everything that comes, let the pages fill up, and then, when I’m editing, I start noticing links I would never have consciously imagined.

The plot is driven by the protagonist’s need to repay a lot of money
I don “t think so who – whichIt’s an accident. I didn’t plan to write about debt, but someone in their thirties in America would put that on their mind; It occupies a lot of our minds. I have student debt and so do most people I know. Debt seems to be the engine of our economy: it is ubiquitous here. I’m fascinated by it as something we do for ourselves, and that the world is asking us to do it for ourselves – and making us do it for ourselves.

How do you feel about the title of “America’s Opioid Crisis Award-Winning Poet”?
I have no interest in being the poet laureate of anything. People write stuff and that’s fine – I’m not bothered by that, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to think about these things. poems in I know your type Certainly about the opioid epidemic, but it’s a book about how the opioid epidemic in West Virginia is but one version of the industrial exploitation happening to a part of the world over and over again. And in the same way that my home state was almost completely registered, and then completely plundered by coal mining, this was just another version of the industry coming in and taking advantage of a place and you know no one really noticed for a long time.

red arrow It plays in part with the frustration you feel when you’re from a place where other people don’t care. Where I grew up, the water was bright orange because it had an acidic mine drain; It was only when I left that I realized, oh, that’s not in everyone’s water.

Why did you switch to prose?
What intrigued me in writing a novel was the great formal challenge of convincing someone to give up five hours of their life to read it. I imagined someone having to feed their children after an eight-hour workday before getting an hour and a half of silence with the lamp in the bed: would I gain that time? As a reader, I notice how it feels when you feel cared for in this way. Your job as a writer is to make your material compelling; People pretend when they write literary things that you’re not supposed to care about that, but I do.

What have you been reading recently?
I just read london fields [by Martin Amis] And Flaubert’s parrot [by Julian Barnes]. British writers in the ’80s seem to have had a blast, and were a lot more fun than Americans had at the time.

Was there a book that initially inspired you to write?
A real game changer was reading Moby Dick In my teens, when I spent a lot of my time drawing and thought I was going to art school. I was waiting for something to dry in art class, I picked it up thinking it would be unfathomable; Instead, I felt completely electric. How this book made sense to a 16-year-old punk rock kid remains a mystery to me, and that’s its beauty.

red arrow By William Brewer Posted by John Murray (£16.99). to support guardian And Foreman Request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply