The Natural Bridge Three-Part Interview #1 – Reader Jennifer Burgess

Dan Chaon

Anita Streitfeld

Jennifer Burgess

What is it about Dan Chaon’s work that makes you such an ardent fan?

I think what attracts me to Dan Chaon’s work is the running theme of identity in his writing. To me, his stories and novels are about who we are, what we are about, why we make the decisions that we do, and the consequences of those decisions. There is this character, Lucy, in Await Your Reply. Lucy is a hurt, lonely, rejected teenage girl who finds herself in love and running away with her high school history teacher. She is constantly making decisions I can imagine any young woman would make in her shoes almost leading to her destruction. Her character is incredibly real. He writes about people we could be passing on the street each day.

What’s the most memorable line / passage from a Dan Chaon story or novel?

There is a line from a story in Among the Missing that I love:

“It doesn’t matter what you do. In the end, you are going to be judged, and all the times that you’re not at your most dignified are the ones that will be recalled in all their vivid, heartbreaking detail. And then of course these things will be distorted and exaggerated and replayed over and over, until eventually they turn into the essence of you: your cartoon.”

I love the idea that we all eventually become cartoons of ourselves, our very souls will be boiled down to something exaggerated, distorted, and even comical.

Do you finish every book you start? Are you a book borrower or a lender?

I used to finish every book I picked up. I felt all books deserved to be read, even the bad ones. Then around my mid-twenties I discovered that if I read all the bad books I started, I would run out of time before I got to all the good ones. There are so many talented writers out there creating great fiction, I may not have time in my life to read each of them, but now if a book doesn’t grab my attention by page 92, I put it down and move on.

I am a lender to a point. I never lend out my most favorite books. You Remind Me of Me has never left my bookshelf. If a friend wanted to borrow it, I would buy them a copy as a gift. I am also not a borrower. I think books are meant to be read well. I read everywhere; in coffee shops, in planes, on the couch, in the bath, and while eating lunch. I would feel horrible if my lunch ended up on someone else’s book, on my book that is fine, but not on someone else’s.

As you grow older and read more does it become harder for you to disappear inside a book?

It is most definitely harder; there are time constraints and attention grabbers like the Internet and 24-hour news cycles. I think the reason I read as much as I do is my intense need to recapture that feeling I had as a child of getting lost inside another world for hours or days. Now that I am an adult I am keenly aware of my mortality and the dangers in the real world around me. I want to rediscover the magic that I found in books in my childhood. Sometimes on rare beautiful occasions, in the right novel, I find it.

How’d you get to be, you know, the way you are?

I blame my mother.