Brown nosing

“I’m not much of a critic but more an enthusiast,” Robert Birnbaum wrote Xpress.

Be that as it may, book “enthusiasts” everywhere should check out, a literary Web site that counts as its chief attraction a trove of author interviews Birnbaum’s conducted over the years with writers as diverse as Julian Barnes, ZZ Packer, Richard Russo — and even the reclusive Donna Tartt.

Having heard Birnbaum was a fan of Brown’s latest opus, we approached him for an e-mail chat about what makes Rabbit run.

Mountain Xpress: “As a reader, what did you appreciate most about The Rabbit Factory?”

Robert Birnbaum: “The switching within Brown’s large ensemble of characters keeps up a high energy level, and the variety of those characters (including a dog) created a high level of natural interest. … [And] somehow the fast pace and various odd plots don’t become cartoonish or, uh, over the top. The characters stayed real for me despite some borderline improbabilities.”

MX: “For a very funny book, Rabbit Factory has a lot of lonely people in it. Did the dual funniness and sadness of this book strike you, too?”

RB: “Well, sure. Not to be banal, but that’s life. Or as the Hungarians say, ‘Life is like licking honey from a thorn.'”

MX: “What do you make of Brown being a Southern writer? And from Oxford, Miss. [the home of Faulkner, Welty and others] to boot? Do you think he fits the mold, or is he breaking it?”

RB: “I don’t think there is a mold. I am familiar with and have talked to a number of so-called Southern writers — Allan Gurganus, Reynolds Price, Richard Ford, Tom Franklin, Brad Watson, Donna Tartt — and I am sure that it’s irritating to be asked questions about what’s Southern writing or whether one is a Southern writer. Which doesn’t stop me from asking, since I have no axe to grind and it’s something of an issue. That is, regional writing is an issue.”

MX: [After a discussion of God, Westerns and moral codes.] “Also, speaking of God, I couldn’t figure out where Brown, as a writer, stood in relation to his creations in the book. Is he benevolent? Is he laughing at them? Does he feel sympathy … or all those things?”

RB: “What’s appealing about Rabbit Factory is that Brown does in fact show his characters great respect and compassion (one might even say ‘love’). I think that’s what good storytelling does, it makes you care about the characters. And I don’t think the reader can, if the writer doesn’t. Your question makes me think of Randy Newman’s ‘God’s Song’ — where God is talking about the fact that he loves mankind because man loves him in spite of all the horrible things God inflicts on him.”

— C.A.A.F.

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.