Over at Tin House, Andrew Ervin speaks with Kyle Minor about Minor’s new story collection, Praying Drunk. This was one of the best books I read last year (though, technically, I think it’s coming out right about now), full of intense visuals and subtle links from story to story. It’s fantastic to read the process that went into the book’s construction.
AE: The stories are set in Florida and Haiti and Kentucky and the halfway point between heaven and hades. Can you tell me a little bit about place and how it informs your characters?
KM: Maybe we live in a time in which “place” is a harder thing to define in a literary way, because the world has become so mobile and interconnected, and because at the same time so much of so many of our lives will be spent in sub-spaces, sub-places, which have their own rules, and those of us who are mobile among sub-spaces alter our behavior as we move among them, if nothing else so that we can be understood and function and avoid being kept from what we want or need, and those of us who stay put in a single sub-space are often confused by the social milieu inside the house next door or the building down the street.
When my first book, In the Devil’s Territory, was published, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Palm Beach Post, and I knew from the tone of his questions that the Palm Beach County I was writing about was very different from the Palm Beach County of his imagination, even though it was the place where he lived and worked and also the place where I had spent my entire childhood. I could tell he was thinking about the Palm Beach of power, Boca Raton and Jupiter Island, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago and the Kennedy compound, the wintering people from New York and old money Europe, the movie stars and the Porsches and the surfers at Carlin Park. I had written about the Southern Baptists across from the dog track who believed in the rapture, the creationist people who had built the Christian school in order to keep their children from going to school with black children in the era of forced integration, the elderly people who lived in the trailer parks thirty miles west of the Intracoastal Waterway, who had been brought to town in their youth to dig wells and ditches and canals for the mansions and the golf courses on the other side of the water. White people whose parents and grandparents talked with Southern accents, and whose children sorted themselves along the class divide by choosing whether or not to continue to talk with Southern accents, and who negotiated varying degrees of uneasy distance from or increasing closeness to neighbors newly arrived from Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Honduras, or Guatemala.
I think that almost everywhere, “place” is a function of the conditions of a person’s birth, family connections, religious or social immersions, access or lack of access to opportunities, and most of all the attitudes about the world that attend to those who have influence or power over a person. Place is an abstraction of overlapping individual experiences and imaginations, ever-changing.
— Benjamin Woodard