Stephen O’Connor is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, the author of four books, a professor of creative writing at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College, and a husband and father. His short stories “Con” and “Double Life” appear in Issues 07 and 03 respectively of The Common. His new novel, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings, is forthcoming from Viking-Penguin. Melody Nixon talked with O’Connor this month while she was in Norway and he in London. They both endured the rainiest of European springs and the crackling of Skype to talk dreams, the unconscious, and the right/ability of white writers to write across identity lines.
As we begin 2015, our recommenders are heading into the wilderness. These books range widely through time and space, each embracing its own unique heart of contradiction—exile and home; passion and failure; reason and chaos; doubt and confidence. Heavy with both fictional biography and memoir, we bring you familiar faces from the dark woods of alienation and obsession. Dive into the new year with these five maps by which to recognize yourself and find a path through the forest.
The Same Roads Back by Frank Dullaghan, The Season of Migration by Nellie Hermann, Swimming Studiesby Leanne Shapton, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, Fourth of July Creekby Smith Henderson
We decided to start with a con. She was small, with blonde hair and an unidentifiable accent that gave her voice the warped vowels and ee-haw rhythms of a handsaw. She approached him on the footbridge, made a startled noise, and looked down. His eyes followed hers, and there—exactly midway between them—was a golden ring. She picked it up first, having been, after all, the one who had put it there the instant before he caught sight of her.
I was twelve when my family shared a big gray house on Fire Island with the McKennas. The house was at the end of a series of narrow boardwalks, just over a small dune from the ocean, which was easily visible from our veranda. I believe the house also had a sundeck off of one of the upstairs bedrooms, because I have a vague memory of someone—my mother, I think—telling me not to disturb Mrs. McKenna, who liked to sunbathe “in the nude.” I had never heard that expression before and, at first, could not believe I had understood it correctly. Only the weird blend of excitement and disapproval in the voice of whoever was speaking convinced me that my interpretation was exactly right. I have no memory of the sundeck itself, however, nor of ever seeing Mrs. McKenna in anything more revealing than a one-piece bathing suit.