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Panorama City (edition 2012)
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Author One-on-One: Antoine Wilson and Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep, which was chosen by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of Panorama City.
Curtis Sittenfeld: Oppen Porter is endearing and often insightful, and he also has significant cognitive disabilities. How did you decide you wanted to tell his story?
Antoine Wilson: I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of someone who seemed, on the surface, to be a fool, an idiot, a doofus. I was inspired by Sancho Panza and Candide. But I let Oppen do something those forebears weren’t able to do: speak for himself, in his own voice. As for his so-called cognitive disabilities (he’s illiterate and preternaturally naïve), they provide a kind of detour around two distractions of contemporary life—information overload and mistrust of others—to arrive at something essential and true.
CS: Do you feel as if you know how a doctor would diagnose Oppen? If so, why did you choose not to mention what that diagnosis would be?
AW: I don’t believe in diagnosing literary characters. As useful as diagnoses can be in real life, they tend to reduce even living, breathing human beings into a list of symptoms and treatments. Apply that kind of constricting language to a literary character—who is after all only a cluster of words—and it’s like letting the air out of a balloon.
CS: Oppen has many entertaining philosophies about the world and its inhabitants. Are any of his views ones you especially share?
AW: Most problems can be solved by waiting. People who walk with their arms swinging look like apes.
CS: Much of the book is, directly and indirectly, about father-son relationships. Could you have written this novel if you weren’t a father yourself?
AW: While I was writing this book, my father died and my son was born. Never before have I felt so much like a link in the chain of generations. It’s no coincidence that Oppen finds himself in the same position, with a father just dead and a little boy on the way. I didn’t approach Panorama City as a transcript of my experience, obviously, but without these experiences I would never have written this particular book.
CS: Oppen finds himself in some interesting sub-communities, including as an employee of a fast food restaurant and a member of a Christian fellowship, and you depict these settings very convincingly. Do you have personal experience with them? Did you do research to get your details right?
AW: I have had enough personal experience with those sub-communities that what little research I did came after the draft was done, in the form of a kind of fiction-writer fact-checking. I’m not a research-first kind of novelist, mainly because I have trouble injecting facts into the part of my brain that generates fictional worlds.
CS: On a similar note, did you spend much time in Panorama City while writing this novel? Would a resident recognize the city, or did you fictionalize it?
AW: Any resident of the San Fernando Valley (or greater Los Angeles) would recognize the world of Panorama City, I'm certain. There’s a Babies R Us in Panorama City, so I tended to kill two birds with one stone, parental duties and novel research. The setting is not 1:1 with the real world, though, so there won’t be any Ulysses-type walking tours, I’m afraid. Maybe for the next book.
I shot a lot of photographs, too. Some went into a book, Shopping Carts of Panorama City, by my alter ego Jean-Jacques Arsenault.
CS: In addition to writing fiction, you maintain a few side projects on your website, including the oddly fascinating "Slow Paparazzo," which shows photos that purport to be places celebrities have just left. Is this really, as the site claims, “100% for reals,” and can you explain its genesis?
AW: Slow Paparazzo (http://theywerejusthere.tumblr.com) is indeed “100% for reals!” Basically I kept seeing celebrities while I was out for the day, mostly around my writing office, which is on the border of Santa Monica and Brentwood. I got a kick out of my sightings but didn't want to skeeve out the famous people, so I started tweeting them as #mentalpaparazzo. Then, after nearly walking into Dave Grohl outside our local toy store, I thought I should take a picture of where he’d just been and tweet that. That was the genesis. A Slow Paparazzo book is in the works.
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:36 -0400)
A self-described "slow absorber" named Oppen Porter records everything he thinks his unborn son will find useful in becoming a man of the world.
(summary from another edition)