Writer and professor Rock is most known for his novel My Abandonment, based on a true story concerning a peculiar father-daughter relationship and their quest to stay on the outside of society. In his new YA novel, Klickitat, Rock again has taken on relationships, this time between two sisters, Audra and Vivian, who live a block away from Klickitat Street (recognized by fans of Beverly Cleary). One sister is ready to leave her childhood home, while the other is more settled yet finds herself in the middle of a mystery. Rock's achievements include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and an Alex Award. He currently lives in Portland, Ore., where he is a longtime professor of English at Reed College.
What's on your nightstand?
House of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata. I return to this novella often. Kawabata is my favorite writer. His Palm of the Hand Stories is my favorite book. He can suggest so much without stating it. He works in shadows, and he's twisted. The way he opens stories and books is also quite devastating.
Counternarratives by John Keene is so smart and dexterous. It take history, literature, paintings, all manner of narratives and bends it into unpredictable tales. My favorite is Rivers, in which a post-Civil War Jim comes upon Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on the street and they have a strange and at times uncomfortable situation. Keene's ability to move these characters through time and space, to imagine how their histories may have continued and also reflected the history of our country, is ambitious and amazing to me.
The Insomnia Answer by Paul Glovinsky and Arthur Spielman. This actually hasn't helped me much, but I suspect it's not their fault.
Laura Ingalls Wilder's collection from the Library of America. She is the best American writer of sentences ever. And My Father, the Pornographer, by Chris Offutt. This memoir in which an acclaimed literary writer returns home upon his father's death to come to terms with his father's life — one in which, using various pseudonyms, (the father) wrote hundreds of pulp novels, almost all of them pornographic, often violently so. The scenes of Offutt sorting through his father's office in the old Kentucky home are heartbreaking, rife with memories and self-recrimination, always rendered in sharp, insightful prose. This book's title and ostensible subject matter really are one way into a deep meditation on losing a parent, and how to account for a life.
How deep was Beverly Cleary's influence on your new book?
In some senses, very deep. One thing that Cleary does so well is to capture the strange energy between sisters, how older and younger sisters tangle and need each other. So I was very attuned to that, and of course while I was writing my book I was reading all the Beezus and Ramona books to my daughters. In writing Klickitat one hope was that I could write something for them. In some ways I failed, because it's just too scary at this point. Another way that my book is attuned to Cleary's work is that my sisters live in the same neighborhood of Portland as Beezus and Ramona, just one block away, on Siskiyou Street, and so they are aware of them as forebears of a sort. The sisters in my book also attended Beverly Cleary Elementary, which is up in that neighborhood, and there are even statues of Ramona and Henry and Ribsy, up there in the park. Why no Beezus? I don't know, big sisters.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.