KENSINGTON, MD — Alex Kudera assures us that he does not communicate with any dead scribes when he puts pen to paper, and the veteran college instructor also makes it clear that he does not desire to be associated with any stable whatsoever, even if it’s among writers he admires like Charles Bukowksi who indeed may have smelled like a horse during his beastliest of hangovers. In the following interview, Alex may be apologetic about lots of things, such as his prose’s refreshing accessibility and so-called lack of sophistication, but he is not budging on revealing more details about Cyrus Duffleman’s event-filled day than what you see on Jamie Keenan’s provocative cover. At this point, it’s safe to say that Alex is chomping at the bit to have his first novel released in October, and so, blissfully, are we. Here, without further apologies, is the second of our two-part interview with ex-lifelong Philadelphian Alex Kudera, our publishing house’s literary everyman. (To read Part 1 of the interview, click here.) If it weren’t for the fact that he would back kick us to the lost plantations of the South, we also would like to introduce Alex as our Gentleman Jack equestrian, fictional “Joe Scholar,” and noble wordsmith rascal, but we wouldn’t dare. Atticus Books: Satire is a tough nut to crack, both as a writer and reader. It can be compared to a private country club membership. If you have to ask the rules of etiquette or the price of admission, you probably don’t belong or can’t afford it. What makes your book accessible to the general reading audience or do you need a lapsed membership card from Mensa to understand it?
Alex Kudera: I’m not a member of any exclusive clubs, so I doubt I’m qualified to answer this question. To me, the novel is not written in a sophisticated or difficult way; it’s not Joyce or Pynchon or Melville or anything like that. I feel I owe an apology to lovers of difficult prose. At times, there could be a sentence or two worth rereading, but I believe this is one of literature’s great pleasures—the opportunity to puzzle over the text. Also, of course, the writer holds no monopoly on the meaning of the book. I’m certain I misunderstand aspects of my favorite books—low and high—and I think this relates to another great pleasure: To take something personal from the text. Whatever happened to Mensa anyway? I’ve never once heard anyone reference that group in a positive way. AB: Does Duffy have what it takes to be literature’s new poster child for everyman? Except, instead of a 70-something hypochondriac thrice married (Philip Roth’s Everyman), the Duffler is a 30-something intellectually self-absorbed bachelor with a healthy appetite and equally voracious sex drive?
AK: First off, I suspect Duffy has the urges of any man, but I don’t want to invade his privacy in such a public setting. Besides, even though I bled for this book, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Cyrus Duffleman’s weird fantasies of being squished between LeBron James’s entourage and a university president’s column of SUVs. Second, if I never meet another “everyman” as long as I live I’ll be very happy. I suspect Roth understands that after four decades of writing many books with similar themes and characters, his Everyman is pretty much just a depiction of what his loyal readers would understand to be an everyman. It’s Harry Potter for the colonoscopy crowd, no? (I’ll need to set an appointment first, thanks.) I’ve read Everyman and liked it okay although it doesn’t compare to his best work (The Human Stain, Portnoy’s Complaint, etc.) and saying this is news to no one. I’m hoping the world is complex enough to resist such ideas as the “everyman,” “Joe the Plumber,” “Joe Six Pack,” “regular Joe,” or—yeah, me too, my Dad’s name is Joe—or anyone else who would stand for the whole. In general, Duffy likes to lay low, and being an everyman sounds like a burden. If there were a job opening for “everyman” and it fit his schedule, then he might apply for the position. Would that come with health benefits?
I’m hoping the world is complex enough to resist such ideas as the ‘everyman’ … In general, Duffy likes to lay low, and being an everyman sounds like a burden. If there were a job opening for ‘everyman’ and it fit his schedule, then he might apply for the position. Would that come with health benefits? ~ Alex Kudera, author of Fight for Your Long Day, on the idea of his first novel’s main character, Cyrus “Duffy” Duffleman, being referred to as Adjunct Everyman
AB: Duffy is not a meta-fictional character in the traditional or literary sense, but his affable, animated self has made hundreds of Facebook fans, and he’s become a bit of an Internet troll. As illustrated on the book cover by UK designer Jamie Keenan, Duffy is depicted as diligent, overtired (i.e., spent), and deep in thought (maybe even a reverie). Is this an apt description, on the whole, of the Duffler?
AK: I’ll vouch for the troll bit, but I don’t know about the rest. I’m suspicious of covers—in all senses—so I’d recommend reading the book to see what’s inside. The Jamie dude you mention sure can design though.
AB: The front cover of your book could be interpreted as an emergency exit guide found in the back pocket of an airplane seat. Although, instead of showing step-by-step evacuation routes or safety instructions, it is a seemingly random sequence of everyday symbols including a traffic light, a hunting arrow, a target with bull’s eye, a deer, caution tape, a U.S. flag, a duffle bag, a keyboard, an open book, and what appears to be a scantily clad co-ed standing next to a bed. Does this, more or less, sum up what’s going on under the covers and between the pages?
AK: No comment.
AB: Were you channeling the spirit of any dead writers when you sat down to write this novel or are you more motivated by the words of novelists, alive and well, be they living legends or contemporaries? In other words, was this work influenced by any one writer of satire or fiction, or perhaps a stable of influential and inventive minds?
AK: To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never communicated with the dead, and my great hope is that writers aren’t horses. I know at least one who famously collapsed on an old mare near the end of his writing days. Come to think of it, with population growth, there are probably many more writers than equines on the planet right now. Is there data that shows writers are to blame for the increase in carbon emissions? They often drive older cars. Hmmm. As for influences, I know I don’t write like most of my favorites, low or high. There are a few out there that yes, if I could write like them, perhaps I would. I don’t see Bukowski or Pynchon in this novel, but I must say I’ve recently been enjoying mixing it up with these two. Five-word Buk followed by Pynchon’s longer sentences keeps me on my toes. OK. Enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Kudera has survived a decade of adjunct-teaching overloads but in some circles is better known for his mysterious injuries. He has bussed dishes and tutored English in two countries and fondly recalls writing in museums, parks, and zoos on several continents. A lifelong Philadelphian until fall 2007, Alex currently teaches literature and writing at Clemson University in South Carolina. Fight for Your Long Day is his first published novel, but he has promised several more.