Q&A with Charles Baxter

Isthmus | October 6, 2004
Charles Baxter

Saul and Patsy

Pantheon, 336 pages

A National Book Award finalist in 2000 for his novel The Feast of Love, Baxter is also acclaimed as an essayist and author of short stories. Saul and Patsy, the eponymous protagonists of Baxter’s most recent novel, live in a small town in Michigan, where their idyllic marriage is disturbed by a crisis -- albeit one mitigated by Baxter’s subtle humor. The author lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches writing at the University of Minnesota.

David Medaris: Who do you hope will read Saul and Patsy?

Charles Baxter: I'm a democrat at heart and am happy to have any readers at all. I hope for readers who can stay awake and alert.

Q: Where and how did you find your inspiration for Saul and Patsy?

A: Originally, from some teachers I knew in the early 1970s. Its other sources of inspiration came from one or two learning-disabled students who crossed my path at various times, and . . . well, sources too numerous to mention.

Q: In terms of gratification and self-esteem, how does being named a National Book Award finalist compare to having your prose hailed by the Atlantic Monthly as "one of the pure pleasures of American fiction," or to the New York Times Book Review calling the same book "rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing.... As loose and supple as life itself"?

A: All this passes. One of the members of my family used to say, "Praise to the face is an open disgrace," which means, probably, that you shouldn't let any critical reactions, positive or negative, go to your head. You do what you can and hope that some readers will like it.

Q: What was the last book you read that you would recommend, and why would you recommend it?

A: I very much liked Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table -- a sharp, intelligent, funny group of stories about aging, not at all sentimental.

Q: What book from your childhood left the greatest impression on you?

A: The 21 Balloons.

Q: What is your favorite meal?

A: Breakfast.

Q: What are you afraid of?

A: That George W. Bush will be re-elected.

Q: What brings you joy?

A: The thought of George W. Bush being defeated in the upcoming election.

Q: What is in your CD player?

A: When I left home (I'm writing this from a Kinko's in Grand Rapids, Michigan), I was listening to the string quartets of John Franklin McEwen. That, and a new compilation CD from McSweeney's for The Future Dictionary of America, including new songs by David Byrne and REM and Fountains of Wayne.


David Medaris is a staff writer for Isthmus, the Madison, Wis., alternative newsweekly.


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