Justin Taylor, author of Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, joined Jeff Jackson at McNally Jackson Books to celebrate the release of Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora. Jackson is a playwright known for experimental projects, while Taylor teaches at Columbia and has a forthcoming essay collection.
Taylor begins by reading a story from Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever and ends by reading poems from David Berman’s Cantos for James Michner. Taylor, had read the book to his class earlier in the afternoon and wanted to share. When they met up before the reading, Jackson encouraged him to read it.
Then Jackson steps up and begins to read. Mira Corpora is divided into segments that the protagonist and narrator traverse with little transition between sections. The breaks are intentionally hard as Jackson will explain.
The book is structured around very small pieces of information. Jackson intended this as a way of building momentum for the plot. He wanted a kind of literary page turner where short pieces of information drove the reader’s desire to push forward. Partly too, Jackson hopes the shorter segments will attenuate any reader confusion derived from the sometimes sparse plot points.
Taylor jumps in to offer that he finds confusion to be an interesting quality on its own. Taylor tried to capture that confusion in his characters for his reader, whom he believes is smart enough to figure things out. He intentionally changes tense and perspective between chapters hoping to capture that essence of confusion for the reader.
On the other hand, Jackson recognized quickly that changing gears too often– too many different perspectives– baffled readers without adding anything to his story. He wanted the singular perspective of the narrator so that that over time the reader could grow along with him.
While Jackson’s text does have hard jumps between narrative segments, he trusted in the reader to fill in the gaps rejecting the traditional concept of eliminating questions for the reader. “As long as its hard break, everyone is okay going along with it,” Jackson says, saying the reader will finish off whatever is unsaid.
Jackson’s early prose writing was with short stories. The idea of a novel was intimidating to him because suddenly it was a much longer narrative. Modular writing helped him tackle the issue by breaking up the narrative into consumable pieces.
“The challenge with something more discrete is maintaining momentum,”
“The challenge with something more discrete is maintaining momentum,” he explains. Then he jokes that the novel has more of a story than many of his plays.
The novel required five years to write, and he began “freaking out” over how long the book took. Over that period of time, the narrator was renamed after Jackson himself. But its not biographical. “The narrator earned the right to my name,” Jackson says.