His chosen tense for Love and Fatigue in America is a conceit for the difficulty he has in creating new memories, each moment a fleeting apparition that depends on the whim of his exhausted brain for future recollection.
Soon after the narrator of this moving autobiographical novel, a teacher from England, arrives in Spokane, he is stricken by an illness that attacks his mind and body in equal measure. He is largely confined to beds and couches, and the smallest tasks become monumental efforts. It turns out that he has chronic fatigue syndrome. Friends and colleagues react with coldness and skepticism. He can barely get himself home. Eventual diagnosis: myalgic encephalopathy — ME disease, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. In the years covered in this book, the narrator leaves Spokane, moves to New Mexico, then on to San Francisco to teach again.
Eventually he makes a home in a small town in Western Massachusetts, five miles from a college, where he slowly finds a life for himself. This technique, he says, is also good for befriending dogs and children. Though illness shapes Love and Fatigue in America , it is far from the only matter King examines. King is smart and funny. His unnamed narrator, not quite likable at first, grows on you in part because of his amusing observations about everything American from the pathetic state of health care to the way men cannot allow themselves to care for others to the surprising number of women he meets who have been subjected to violence, often by military men.
This is not a traditional novel.
He also presents ideas expressed in free verse. Thus, he apologizes. The book is not traditional for other reasons. Early Days pp. Army I: Krissy pp. Army II: Sucking on the Teat pp. America through the Ages pp. What Is Kind pp. Doctor II: Happy pp. List of Names incomplete pp. Army III: Marianne pp. Reasons pp. Health Care pp. Army IV: Carol pp. Quietness pp. New Mexico, — pp. Settlers I pp. How to Be Ill pp.
Home II: Adobe pp. Doctor III: Stress pp. The Prize pp. Doctor V: Anomaly pp. Waiting for Mary pp. Luck pp. Skepticism pp. The Gift of Illness pp.
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Love at Last: Mary pp. Illness as Metaphor pp. Love at Last: Zoe pp. Love at Last: Continued pp. Skating at Los Alamos pp. How to Get a Job pp. Doctor XII: Thumper pp. Pregnant pp. Leaving Love pp. While reminiscent of Sebald , the book weaves together a number of literary styles and traditions. But the author has woven all of these fascinations together into a literary work that is entirely unique.
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It is a fictional device that serves the novel well. In part, this could be a result of King remaining outside of the MFA system, and also a result of a literary style that is more European than American. Like the main characters in his novels, King hovers between two worlds—the UK and America without embracing or being embraced by either. This week I had a chance to have an in-depth conversation with Roger about his his new book, his illness and writing routine, and the state of the novel today. I published my two West African novels There followed 25 years of sidetrack before my first novel was published.
During the time that I was working at universities in Nigeria and England, finishing a PhD in agricultural economics and then traveling around the world for UN agencies, I was scribbling in notebooks in preparation for my real life. The poor had no political power and other interests shaped the world.
We all had a narrative about how we were doing good, but it was not the true narrative. There was really no choice, but I agonized anyway. By this time I had become exhausted by the difficulty of making international aid genuinely effective for the poor. The need to pretend I was someone else in order to write was a final straw.
I needed to choose, and I chose writing, moving to America to teach it. My next novel, Sea Level , was an exploration of the moral damage of international finance, which I published under my own name. And I still hope to channel my nine year-old self one day, and write a childhood book that puts the grown-ups straight. Roger King's photograph of Chitrali villagers on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What Makes a Healthy Life? Writer Roger King Explores Love & Fatigue in America
I treasure all novelists who dare to extend the range of what can be done successfully in novels. The license becomes broader all the time. My wretched work method is mainly trial and error, trying to discover the voice, form and content that bears on the particular subject that is on my mind. I took some risks combining lyricism and cooler writing in earlier books, but this new book takes it further.
Also I trust more and more that readers will connect disparate episodes in instinctive, creative ways without my leading them laboriously from place to place by the nose. Love and Fatigue expressed that trust. I thought I was probably asking a lot of readers. Even with the earlier books that have more conventional plots, I would not say they were plot driven. My plots tend to develop late in the writing process. We all enjoy a story, but the story is not the real point. The plot is an offering to the rational brain so that it will let the writing enter somewhere deeper.
Love and Fatigue in America is about an immigrant very like myself making a home in America while suffering from a debilitating illness that affects both mind and body. It covers a decade, dozens of characters, and moves through much of the United States. My general subject was the resonance between our understandings of personal health, and social health — and what makes a healthy life. All this, and I wanted a short book. I was looking for elegant compression. Brevity also suited me because I was ill and writing was tiring. The short chapters in different forms — story, memoir, essay, verse, lists, permitted a variety of takes on my subject — and the shifting tone also expresses the rollercoaster of a changeable illness that affects perception.
The form is part of the content. It took a while to find the structure I wanted for this book, and at one point pinned up a hundred chapter headings on the walls of a studio at the VCCA artist colony and spun around in my chair drafting and ordering them by intuition.
Project MUSE - Love and Fatigue in America
Finally, I wanted the book to be entertaining, even funny. I was offering a book about chronic illness, along with social commentary, and with a subject like that, I owed the reader a good time. The short dissonant sections keep it lively and fend off anything resembling a misery memoir. When I lived in the UK twenty years ago, I read more American writers than I do now that I live in America, so a measure of perversity may be involved.
Or a wish for my reading to always take me into a bigger world. Or could it be that the American novel that has become less interesting? And the invigoration in fiction is coming from new places. A couple of years ago Pakistan also gave us the wonderful Daniyal Mueenuddin. But twenty years ago, when I was first bowled over by him, he was an entirely fresh voice in literature. There are other European writers far from new, who I still find fresh.
The list is long and I have not even touched on Latin American literature. I read British writers a lot, but my taste for them may be adulterated by nostalgia. The world is opening out and American writers still tend to be looking inwards. What it is to be an American, and how hard it is, is still a central subject.
At the other end of the scale from the bloated literary heavy hitters, there are the brilliant young writers of irreproachable prose, who have nothing much to say with it. These are writers who have never been in the world, and therefore have little to offer beyond style and fashion.
- Love and Fatigue in America | New Hampshire Public Radio.
- Love and Fatigue in America by Roger King.
Once American writers were typified by outsiders invading polite society after being knocked about in the big bad world.