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  • Written by Antoine Wilson
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  • The Interloper
  • Written by Antoine Wilson
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Written by Antoine WilsonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Antoine Wilson

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On Sale: November 29, 2011
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-1-59051-551-8
Published by : Other Press Other Press
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Synopsis

Synopsis

A novel about obsession that makes for obsessive reading.


All Owen Patterson wants is an normal life, a happy marriage, and a stable family. But following the brutal and random murder of his brother-in-law, that dream is shattered. A year later, his wife is still in mourning and his in-laws won't talk about anything but their dead son.

The murderer, Henry Joseph Raven, has been put in prison, but as far as Owen is concerned, prison isn’t punishment enough. He embarks on a quest to "balance the scales of justice," writing letters to Henry Raven under the pseudonym Lily Hazelton. His plan: to seduce the murderer, make him fall in love with his fictional correspondent, and then break his heart. From one letter to the next, Lily Hazelton develops into a curious amalgam of details from Owen’s imagination, snatches of his difficult childhood, and memories of his cousin Eileen, a suicide who was his first true love. Not entirely in control of his own creation, Owen dives headfirst into the correspondence, only to find himself caught in the trap he’s set for Henry Raven.

Bringing together an epistolary game of cat and mouse with the harrowing record of one man’s psychological collapse, The Interloper is a compelling and original debut from a bold new writer.

"As assured and sumptuously written as any first novel I’ve encountered—Antoine Wilson’s prose sings, and the story he tells here is both clever and compelling. This is writing at its very best." — T. Coraghessan Boyle
Antoine Wilson|Author Q&A

About Antoine Wilson

Antoine Wilson - The Interloper
Antoine Wilson's work has appeared in The Paris Review, Best New American Voices, StoryQuarterly, and other periodicals. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and recipient of the Carol Houck Smith Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He is a contributing editor of A Public Space. This is his first novel. He lives in Los Angeles.

Author Q&A

Interview with Antoine Wilson
By Callie Miller of The LAist

Your novel opens with the main character, Owen, making a somewhat unusual declaration, can you talk about that?
In an earlier draft, Owen said “I hate books that start off with a bang.” Which is a bang – it didn’t fit because it’s him talking about writing books which is what I do, not what he does. It was a rant about first person narrators that run out and shake your hand at the beginning of a book – it’s never been my sort of thing. If you want to sell a book don’t begin it with “Hi, my name is...” So I did and I thought that was really funny. I like that he gave himself an 80% on the civilized person scale. Who would give themselves an 80%? I love that.

Without giving too much away, your book is constructed in a way that keeps readers guessing as to what is real, not real, who can be believed, not believed. Was this your intention from the outset or did this framework emerge over several drafts?
Nabokov said the real drama occurs between the reader and the writer – or something like that. Or the reader and the text. He wasn’t as interested in the drama occurring in the work. I think I was playing with that idea and was very aware of it in the construction of the book – I wanted to play with readers’ expectations. I also wanted to pursue crime & punishment. The concepts, not the novel.

Your book explores different ways that families deal – or don't deal – with loss. You mentioned at the LA Times Festival of Books that this was in part based on your personal experience. How so?
I wanted to explore grief – the kind of grief where you talk about it all the time and can’t move beyond it and the kind of grief where you never talk about it and that’s another way to do it. My older half-brother was murdered when I was seven years old. He wasn't someone I saw every day, so I didn't feel that loss acutely. But the people I was living with became different. So it was removed -- me experiencing them experiencing the loss. He was missing for a period of months. They caught the guy, but he was eventually paroled. Through that experience, I saw that our justice system basically blows.

I don’t want to overstate the importance of this stuff in the book. It was just one of the sparks that got things moving.

You’ve done something that is rarely done well – but when it is, is our favorite kind of fiction – where the funny and the horrible meet. Neither feels forced, both amplify the human element of what is happening. How did this dark humor come about?
After the book made its way into the world, it occurred to me that someone who never had a murder in their family might never write this kind of book. It’s dark, but the darkness that unfolds was something I had to live with and cope with using the full spectrum of emotions. I didn’t feel there was a clash with the funny stuff – I just kept thinking it was darkly comic. But if someone set out to write this book - decided to make it funny on purpose - the schism might be a little more obvious and it might not work. I meant it to be a funny book. It’s a train wreck. I think a train wreck should be funny to a certain extent. But a real train wreck isn’t funny...

No, it isn't. But what is funny is when Owen – in an attempt to understand the female psyche – tries on a lavender thong. There’s chafing. What kind of research was done for that bit?
A thong was involved, but it wasn’t lavender. It was a green thong in real life.

Your book is set in LA, yet it’s a somewhat generic LA in which the furniture store is called “Furniture Store”, the bathroom store is called “Bathroom Store” and Owen calls their home "Our Hamlet by the Sea." What was your intention with these non-specific names? To make it seem like these events could happen anywhere? To make L.A. accessible?
I knew I wanted to write a novel set in LA. I knew I wanted to capture my life in LA, going to the carwash in LA, going to classes on campus. I did so much writing about these things that over time, I managed to sneak my way into Owen’s character and life by writing about my life in LA.

As for the generic names, it was totally a choice and was a Nabokovian affectation. I liked the way it sounded. There’s a thing I tell my students and again it’s a quote I can’t remember. It has to do with the specific and the general. In fiction writing, the more specific detail you provide, paradoxically, the more universal it becomes. I should have listened to that rule and given things proper names.

Owen's increasing madness is a classic case of the best intentions gone terribly awry. His intentions are pure, he means well, but he makes a series of bad decisions. Is this brand of crazy particular to Owen or is it a larger comment on how we are all are just a few steps away from getting off track? A worldview you have of how close we all are to going nuts and wearing women’s panties?
It’s definitely just Owen. Most people have a pretty well-defined sense of what's crazy and not. Yet on a smaller, daily scale, where the consequences aren’t so large, we’re doing it all the time. We come up with an idea of how to best handle a scheduling conflict and we say "I’m sorry I broke my leg this weekend", not expecting to see that person later at Starbuck’s without your broken leg.

Favorite bookstore in LA? Dutton’s...they're right down the street.

Favorite surf spot? I always say between the 310 and 805 area codes…essentially all along the coast.

Music? Pavement. Silver Jews. DJ Shadow. Beethoven while writing.

Writers that you have been, are currently, or will forever be, into?
Nabokov - Pale Fire in particular. Thomas Bernhard. Voltaire - Candide. Murakami. Nicholson Baker. So many others...

A recently read book that you loved or secretly wished you had written?
The Fermata by Nicholson Baker

How has living in LA shaped you, if at all, as a writer?
When I moved back here, I had a huge silver Lincoln towncar. I called it the Silver Bullet. But it didn't fit in with Santa Monica. So I got this license plate that said: L84YOGA. [Wilson provides further illumination about said license plate on his WOT-WHAT blog.] No one who does yoga would have this license plate. But everybody here does yoga. So it was perfect for this town.

This city has a certain artistic freedom – there isn’t any single or central commanding artistic voice so you're free to create. I love that about LA.

Once I was driving by Olympic and San Vicente. It was a cool evening, but it wasn’t cold. I saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart down the street, with the most amazing fire in it. This huge fire, just pushing his cart along. I thought: there it is. That’s it. That is LA. That is one big piece of the pie chart.

At the LA Times Festival of Books panel, you mentioned that you initially thought you were too good for writing classes, then you took a few, and now you teach them at UCLA. Can you talk about that shift and why you see the value in them now?
I originally thought: I’m going to mainline some Thomas Pynchon and write something brilliant without any sense of structure and also I’ll write it while I’m traveling through Europe. Cause that’s the way to do it, right? (Huge ironic grin.) No. I had to write for awhile to realize I had no clue. It was a totally immature point of view. There are so many beginner mistakes that can be cleared up through instruction.

So, can writing be taught? Reading as a writer can be taught.
In the workshop model you learn more from your critiques of other people's stories than you will learn from feedback on your work. You get to see work in process, you read work that’s not fully formed and can view it critically which helps you see how tricks are deployed. The danger is that the newly developed editorial ability interferes with your original voice and you get stuck because you’re thinking about the product and you can’t get back to your original process. It’s been an interesting trip.

You are a contributing editor to the literary journal A Public Space. The first three issues have been packed with excellent writers. What role does this play in your daily life? An antidote to writing fiction? A juggling act?
I met Brigid [Hughes] when I had a story in The Paris Review. I developed a friendship with her and when she told me she was leaving The Paris Review to start a new magazine, I asked how I could be involved.

A short story writer I know kept working on a story. It was really good but he kept re-writing it. I finally managed to get it away from him and his agent and I think it will be published in an upcoming issue. That’s very rewarding…to find something that is great that might not necessarily find a place somewhere else – at least in the glossies – that’s cool. It’s cool to be part of something like that.

I’m so not involved in the daily workings of the magazine. It’s great when a new issue comes out because there’s all this work in there that I didn’t even know about. So I get to be an editor and a fan. Brigid’s now given me some insane assignment for a cool project a year from now. So we’ll see how that goes…I’ll let you know.

How are you different now that you’ve written a first novel? Now that it’s out there in the world?
When I go out at night now, I wear a laurel wreath. (Sheepish grin.) No, seriously, the greatest danger about being a novelist in this town is that you will buy into the sunshine that people blow up your ass. People have respect for fiction writers here that for some reason they don’t have for screenwriters. People say to the novelist at a dinner party "Oh, you’re a real writer." That's bullshit, screenwriting is real writing.

You always have to come back to the stuff that made you write in the first place. Whether you imagine a reader or not. Back before I knew anything about anything I was writing with the big voice, I was writing to literature with a capital “L.” I’m trying to make my way back to that now. I’m not trying to get rich, famous, whatever. I just want to write. Having a book come out makes that complicated. You have to find your way back to that reason you started writing in the first place.

Praise

Praise

Kirkus Reviews

One man's quest to avenge a relative's murder becomes an obsession...creepy...


San Diego Union-Tribune

Although his pedigree is impressive (Iowa Writer's Workshop, the Paris Review, "Best New American Voices"), Wilson has come seemingly out of nowhere to deliver a novel that is confident, well-paced and very, very creepy. Were he to meddle in literary affairs again and again, the world would be the better for it.


Publishers Weekly

...the pathos, delusion and hope festering within Owen will carry readers through.


Booklist

The pleasures of this wry debut novel lie not in wondering if things will turn out badly for Owen but in how badly they will go and how unreliable his narrative really is. Was his father a frustrated inventor or a drug-lab operator? Are his manuals brilliant or perennially late and barely readable? Is he just a bit odd or a full-blown nutter? Either way, Owen keeps his mind on the rails long enough to deliver an amusing account of the train wreck.

ForeWord Magazine
...Wilson takes his readers down a dark spiraling path with an ever-increasing tempo where past childhood memories and hatred collide with resounding tragedy.


The Los Angeles Times

OH, what thrilling dread, falling in with a character as twisted as the narrator of Antoine Wilson's terrific first novel, "The Interloper." It's like leaving a party with a designated driver, only to discover as you swerve down the driveway that your new friend is drunker than you are. Or worse, completely insane.

Your sketchy guide in "The Interloper" is Owen Patterson, an unexceptional writer of software manuals — a "solid B," he calls himself — whose marriage to the lovely Patty is only weeks old when Patty's brother C.J. is murdered.

While Patty and her family obsess over the loss, Owen convinces himself that his marriage has been ruined by injustice. The killer, Henry Joseph Raven, got only 20-some years, and in Owen's eyes, this is destroying his family. His sex life is bad. His in-laws are morose. His wife is encased in mourning black. Is it any wonder that Owen begins to feel some deep need to "unpoison the soil"?

Screwball plan ensues: Owen will secretly pose as an attractive, lonely woman, write letters to Raven in prison, get Raven to fall in love with the phony woman he's created, and then have her cruelly dump him. Take that, ruthless killer!

A contributing editor for the fine literary magazine A Public Space, Wilson writes a clean, restrained line that works well for the setup and for the creeping fun that follows: a manic, darkly comic descent into delusional obsession.

There is no shortage of clues from the outset that Owen is a little off, starting with the fact that he seems actually to believe that breaking the heart of a murderer will somehow "balance the scales of justice." As he's creating the woman who will woo Raven via the mail, Owen recalls his own first love, an older cousin who initiated him into sex and later died of a drug overdose. Owen samples her personality for these letters and even goes so far as to digitally superimpose this dead lover-cousin's face onto various female bodies in an effort to strike the perfect note of sexuality and neediness that would interest a lonely, incarcerated killer.

At this point, "The Interloper" becomes largely epistolary, as Wilson offers a pitch-perfect correspondence between the meek but decent "Lily" and the cruel but sensitive Raven. Owen steals the journal of his murdered brother-in-law, and as we read the entries and the letters, it's striking how fully Wilson can channel these characters through their writing. In fact, the invented Lily threatens to become the most real of all the people — for Owen and for the reader.

One might even begin to suspect Wilson of having wry postmodern intentions; perhaps a commentary on the novelist as sick ventriloquist, obsessive and more than a little weird. "I had to become Lily when I wrote," Owen tells us, "and even more so when I read." But Wilson's firm handle on his protagonist keeps any such abstraction at bay, and his story staggers cheerily from crime to satire to psychological study.

Orphaned by a mother who died and a father who drifted off, Owen is a cross-wired mess. Hard to say when you become aware of his complete unreliability — perhaps it's when (in an effort to think more like a seductive woman) he plays an awkward game of Frisbee with his wife while wearing the thong underwear he's recently stolen from her dresser. With his character Owen Patterson, Wilson seems to be nodding askew to the great James M. Cain losers who narrated their own sad tumbles from death row or a drifting ship. But Cain's sinners were driven by department-store lust and greed (and undone by the same) and keen enough to register the proper regret and self-loathing. Owen's bent personality comes from a deeper, more delusional and disturbing source. He actually believes what he's doing is right. And that it will work. And so he hums along like a cross between Dostoevsky's brooding Raskolnikov and Camus' maddeningly rational Meursault, overheated and illogical and, of course, doomed.

"It's the noblest mistake to see humanity in everyone," Owen says late in the game, and this goes for the reader as well. And if, in the last few chapters, Wilson whiffs on plot twists that come too fast and too conveniently, you're hooked enough by then to give him one. Or two. Anyway, you couldn't quit even if you wanted to, because Owen is at the wheel and you're just along for the ride, your hands gripping the dashboard as you careen toward that last hairpin turn.


The LAist

LA Times loved it...Yes, it is that good. The creepy factor is high as Owen tries to avenge his brother-in-law's death by assuming the identity of a woman and writing love letters (as a woman!) to his brother-in-law's imprisoned killer. Creepy but funny.


Baltimore City Paper

Antoine Wilson's debut novel, The Interloper, is a thoroughly dark and uncannily disturbing assessment of psychological breakdown. It is a story that makes you think about what is normal and what is abnormal--and about the ends justifying the means...Wilson's well-written prose examines how obsession can lead to one's demise. With its disturbing plot and characters, The Interloper shows just how far a person will go to seek revenge...it is definitely worth a close read. Wilson has a promising career ahead of him.


Brooklyn Rail

[A] standout, tautly-written debut novel...At times horrifying and at times laugh out loud funny, The Interloper makes for compulsive reading...Wilson tightly orchestrates the entire disaster, leaving us wondering how badly things will end up...succeeding to write a gripping first novel that defies expectations.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Why do you think the title of the book is The Interloper? Who or what is the interloper?

2. The Interloper portrays very different responses to death: the silent approach that denies death and the openly obsessional response of the Stocking family. How does Owen react to and embody the varied forms of mourning?

3. The Stockings are not seeking revenge. What do you think is involved in Owen’s decision to seek revenge for CJ’s death?

4. Owen thinks he is “in fine shape medically and psychologically” and considers himself “a civilized person, probably around 80% acclimated to the society” in which he lives. How does his lack of self-awareness set the tone for the book?

5. What other clues indicate that Owen’s account might not be entirely reliable?

6. In a very dark manner, The Interloper intertwines comedy with tragedy. What aspects of the book did you find humorous?

7. In a version of epistolary cross-dressing, Owen names his female correspondent based on his deceased cousin, “lethal Lily Hazelton. Hazel-eyed Hazelton, Lily the lily, a trumpet on a slender stem. An invitation for Raven to tend or pluck.” Lily evokes Nabokov’s nicknamed Lolita, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul,” whose full name was Dolores Haze. How does Owen’s own unspoken mourning for his lost forbidden love merge with the mourning around him?

8. How does the manipulation of gender work its effects on Owen?

9. When Calvin’s diary reveals something about what he was like, how does it reverberate with his family’s obsessive mourning for him and with Owen’s demented program of revenge?

10. Did you find the ending to be a surprise? What do you think Owen’s intentions were when he met Henry Joseph Raven and what do you think happened—in his own mind and from an external point of view?


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