The work of novelist Michael Kimball (Dear Everybody, Us, The Way the Family Got Away) has never been for the weak at heart; his stories mine the depths of human frailty and pain with tenderness and bravery combined with stunning lyrical landscapes. So how should we brace for his upcoming novel, Big Ray, to be published in 2012 (Bloomsbury)? Jen Michalski tries to get a grip with Michael Kimball:
Jen Michalski: Can you tell me a little more about Big Ray?
Michael Kimball: Big Ray is the story of a son coming to terms with the sudden death of his obese father. The novel told through 500 brief entries, moving back and forth between past and present, the father’s death and his life, between an abusive childhood and adult understanding.
JM: This novel actually came out of another work-in-progress with which those of us around you are more familiar, pieces of which you’d been reading here on the East Coast as early as last summer. Was it as much of a surprise to you as to us, your faithful listeners?
MK: Last summer, I started working on something new that you knew about and that I thought was going to be a novel. I was maybe 150 pages into that novel when I started writing a father chapter that kept expanding. After I had about 120 pages of that chapter, I realized that it was its own thing. I abandoned the novel that got me there and split off the 120 pages. That happened late last year. Three months later, I was finished with the manuscript. It surprised me too.
JM: It must have been an emotionally grueling period of time, as a writer, to work on Us, Dear Everybody, and now Big Ray, all of which address death (two of which have been known to make people cry a lot). How do you find balance in your life to avoid being overwhelmed by the emotions you conjure during your writing?
MK: Writing Big Ray was emotionally grueling in ways that I did not anticipate—beyond anything that I encountered writing Us or Dear Everybody—but it was also transformative and writing the novel often felt euphoric. I feel lighter, stronger, happier, ready for whatever is next.
JM: Is there a “happy” book in your future? 😉
MK: Who has written a great, happy novel? I can’t think of one.
JM: Do you have a favorite sentence from Big Ray? As fans, we’re always grateful for a teaser.
MK: “If my father weren’t dead, I would kick his ass.”
Michael Kimball is the author of four books, including Dear Everybody (which The Believer calls “a curatorial masterpiece”) and, most recently, Us (which Time Out Chicago calls “a simply gorgeous and astonishing book”). His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Bomb, and New York Tyrant. His work has been translated into a dozen languages and he is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard). His new novel, Big Ray, will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012.