arker makes second splash It's been eight years since Michael Parker introduced himself with Hello Down There, a debut novel the New York Times called "a serious, memorable novel that begins a very serious career."Now Parker's follow-up, a book that was "never supposed to be my second novel," continues the story of the residents of fictional Trent, North Carolina. Filled with melancholy prose and slow Southern charm, Towns Without Rivers takes readers on a journey to escape family and find identity. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Reka (short for Eureka) has just been released from jail after serving time for administering a fatal overdose to her morphine-addicted boyfriend.
"[Reka] makes some awful decisions in this novel," Parker says. "But that's what we do; we make questionable decisions in our lives and learn the hard way." BookPage caught up with the boyish-looking author on the fourth stop of his 14-city book tour where he revealed what it means to be a Southern writer and discussed the ups and downs of crossing the country to promote a book.
Why did you come back to the characters from Hello Down There?I ended that book on a real ambiguous note and a lot of people would ask me what happened afterwards. I never would say, and it was really because I didn't know. It wasn't because I was being coy; I just didn't know. So I really wrote the book to find out what happened to them afterwards. Also, I was really interested in the challenge of writing about characters over time and writing about them after other things have happened to them that I didn't actually write. That part of it intrigued me.
You've been called a Southern writer. Do you accept that label?Yeah, proudly. I do, and then I have problems with it at the same time, because I feel that it limits my work. I had a review last week for this book, and the guy took me to task for not reinventing Southern literature, which is not at all what I set out to do.
There's a great tradition there, which I'm happy to be a part of, but I don't really feel like I am trying to carry on the mantle of [William] Faulkner and [Flannery] O'Connor.
How would you describe your Southern writing style?I think my characters have a relationship to place that people assume is real Southern because they love where they come from or they hate where they come from, but they are never indifferent towards it. And that's something that people think is intrinsically Southern.
Also, most of my characters love language and delight in language. They're subtly indirect and very alive. And I think Southerners excel at that kind of irony.
It almost seems like you're fascinated with words themselves.Yeah, that's what Hello Down There was really about about language and how you define yourself by what you say. There's a great discrepancy between the words you use to say something and the way you really feel, so that's something I'm interested in writing about. Writing is like that you're trying to nail it, you're trying to say what happens to these people, but there's always this other story that's not getting told and trying to get on the page somehow.
I like the title of your new book and I was just wondering if you could explain the significance of Towns Without Rivers.The way I go about titling is that I have titles that I like and I try to make them work for the book instead of it coming up organically, which is pretty stupid really. Don't tell anybody. This one I just liked the idea; I've thought a lot about how rivers can change towns and how the presence of the river means something to the people that are there, and how landlocked towns are different from towns that are on water. It just has to do with the way people are being defined by place and where they are.
You teach creative writing. Have any of your students read your work?Some of them have.
Any feedback?They're shy about talking about it to me. But some of them aren't. They say, I read your book and I thought it stank.' That's fine with me; at least they read it.