In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Interview with Novelist Sarah Bird
  • Richard J. Golsan (bio)
Richard J. Golsan (RJG):

What is your favorite novel?

Sarah Bird (SB):

My comfort food novel, the one I pulled out back in those high anxiety days when we were bleaching our groceries was Dog of the South by the inimitable Charles Portis.


When did you first discover this novel?


Charles Portis arrived at a golden moment in my reading life. I was in my late-twenties, so this would have been late-Seventies, early eighties. Though I wasn't exactly conscious of it, I was groping my way toward writing comic novels.

I was probably set on this path early by my wildly idiosyncratic family. We were six children in a military family that moved far, far too much for our group of pathologically shy introverts. In endless drives, flights, and ocean crossings to an endless succession of new bases we formed a sort of six-way twinship. The only humans we were actually comfortable with were each other.

We were able to endure the purgatories of our new schools with their bewildering assault of strangers because, at the end of each day, we could go home and lose ourselves in books. Books seemed to simply filter into our lives the way food, borne on underground ocean currents, filters into an amoeba. We'd reach out and ingest whatever reading matter a sib introduced into our biosphere and it would be digested and absorbed into our hermetic little world.

My sisters who adored all non-human animals infected us with Watership Down and we all joyfully re-entered our lost childhood worlds of talking animals. To this day we will praise an exceptionally fine meal in Lapine, calling it "flay-rah." Or note that a surprised or perplexed sibling has "gone tharn." If feeling particularly frisky we might even pretend to freeze in fear, "go tharn," at the sound of the rabbit's greatest enemy, those gas-powered monsters, the "hrududil."

We re-enacted Eliza's escape on the ice floes from Uncle Tom's Cabin with flattened packing boxes from our latest move strewn across the backyard of whatever base house we'd been assigned. At the Base Pool [End Page 178] we pretended to be either Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins or the dolphins she befriended. We all wept together while reading Sophie's Choice and Confessions of Nat Turner. But the novel that marked the Before and After in our hive mind reading was Confederacy of Dunces.


What was it about "Confederacy" that spoke to all of you?


This is simple: It made us laugh. I probably would have chosen Dunces as my pandemic comfort food book except that I've read and re-read it too many times. Also, it feels a bit too claustrophobic for a pandemic. Dog, a road trip novel, is far more expansive. I'm going to have delay speaking of my love of Dog for a moment to set the stage for its arrival, so back to Dunces.

I had the glorious experience of encountering John Kennedy Toole's masterpiece without knowing a thing about it when my youngest brother, who was studying bio-chemical engineering at the time, stuck it in my hands, and said, "Read."

One way to understand how sui generis Dunces was is to consider the authors Toole's posthumous 1981 Pulitzer was sandwiched between: Cheever, Updike, and Mailer. Imagine going, for example, from Cheever's overachieving characters awakening to the emptiness of their lives in the suburbs to Ignatius J. Reilly, the ultimate outsider, an oafish, obese, scabrous gargantuan, as dedicated to self-abuse as he is to the Middle Ages.

This novel plugged into my family's genome like a missing strand of DNA. We lived that novel like no other. We christened our mother "Santa Battaglia," took to cursing "Fortuna, that vicious slut," and excused any dyspeptic behavior by explaining that our "valve had plopped shut." For a very long time after, all our reading sought to duplicate the experience of Dunces.

My youngest brother introduced Sotweed Factor into our literary food stream and we milked a few...


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pp. 178-181
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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