Chris Bachelder is deservedly considered one of America’s great comic novelists. Whether he’s exploring male anxiety and friendship in The Throwback Special or fatherhood and marriage in Abbott Awaits, Bachelder always manages to locate that place in our hearts where fear and love battle for primacy. We are all terrified. We perform elaborate rituals and start families to distract ourselves from our dread. Sometimes we muster courage. Occasionally, agape. Bachelder’s fictional territory is, primarily, intimacy—the struggle to nurture it and the sometimes overpowering urge to flee it—competing impulses that almost always resolve in wonder. If Bachelder has an ethics, it lies in this fact: how remarkable and mysterious that we human beings find ourselves right here, right now. “The view from the window,” he writes in Bear v. Shark, “particularly if you enjoy neon, is extraordinary.” Can we manage, in spite of our hardwired timorousness, to be good to each other and honor this remarkable fact of our existence?
In July 2019, while he was teaching at the Sewanee School of Letters, the novelist sat down with editor Adam Ross for a wide-ranging conversation about patience—ironic, since so much of his humor grows out of impatience. Anchored by Bachelder’s craft essay, “On Patient Writing,” from the Summer 2019 issue, the two talk about using ambivalence to create authenticity, allowing chaos its space on the page, and exploiting the tension between form and surprise. Like Bachelder’s essay, their conversation slowly accumulates, as they explore the particular pleasures that derive from slowing down short stories to discover what patience produces in fiction. As examples, Ross and Bachelder talk about Steven Millhauser’s “Visit” and Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” prime examples of patient writing, each fictive world so rich with detail it becomes real. Bachelder also reflects on pacing in his own work, using what he calls “imaginative deferral,” and a practice of “not getting there yet” in order to discover a story’s source of greatest interest. “Pacing is generative,” Bachelder says, “it generates the world.”
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by Alex Martin with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The Throwback Special, along with Bachelder’s other novels, are available from your favorite local independent bookstore or bookshop.org.