An Interview with Eric Lundgren, by Peter Swegart
December 2, 2013
The Facades is Eric Lundgren’s first published novel is a mix of darkness and light, humor and deep-stomach sadness. The story follows Sven Norberg’s search for his wife in the fictional city called Trude. The whole atmosphere of Trude is dirty, menacing and decrepit and many of the characters are villainous in one way or another. Despite all of this, the reader can comfort in the protagonist’s dry humor and undying hope that he will find his wife. The Facades is a beautiful nocturn of a novel, with a plot that makes you want to keep reading and style that makes you want to reread each sentence. I had the pleasure of talking to Eric about anguish, scary operas, and Minnesota.
Despite the fact that the setting and much of the content of The Facades is dark and bleak, a lot of the descriptions and scenarios made me laugh. It made me wonder how lightheartedness plays into your writing process; do you find yourself having fun more than agonizing when it comes to your work?
I’m glad to know you laughed. It does depend on your sense of humor a little bit. At the sanitorium in The Magic Mountain, the residents trade X-rays of their diseased lungs as love mementos. That’s hilarious to me, and I have to think that even Thomas Mann must have had fun writing that. I would say it’s about 65% agony, but that other part is what keeps you going. If you’re not having any fun writing it, the book’s going to be DOA in the reader’s hands.
There is a lot of focus on the decline of interest in literature in Trude (i.e. the closing of libraries, the unfrequented bookstores). How does this play into your view on literature and current U.S. culture?
Well, Sven Norberg notices those kinds of things. He thinks of joining the armed librarian resistance downtown. He’s like a neglected hardcover in a dim used bookstore himself. But I did give him real fears of mine. Maybe I am a little less anxious about it now than I used to be. People are still interested in books and literature—I see ample evidence of that every day. It’s just a matter of the forms this interest will take. The challenge for most people, I think, is finding the right kind of privacy and quiet to read serious fiction. It’s getting harder to find. We read differently now. And yeah, it may be that a certain kind of long, demanding, modernist novel has had its day.
I couldn’t help noticing how Sven’s wife’s name is Molly and is a revered and lusted-after singer who is (pretty much) worshipped by her husband, much like Molly in Ulysses. Was this intentional? If so, what’s the connection?
I tried to read Ulysses, and I’ve spent time in Ireland,so I was aware of that. I considered changing it, but I really wanted the name Molly. This is odd, but there are these Minnesotan jokes called Sven and Ole jokes. Dumb Norwegian jokes. Maybe this is why Sven and Molly sounded like the right names to me. I also love the way the word “Molly” looks on the page—the absence at the center of it, the guardedness of the double l, the way the lowercase y digs a little grave at the end. This sounds trivial but you have to type the word thousands of times, you’d better love it. Think how wonderful it is to type “Molly Bloom.”
I really enjoyed the focus on architecture in this novel and its connection with the storyline. Have you always had an interest in architecture?
Years ago, when I first met my teacher Kathryn Davis, she made an innocuous-seeming comment on a short story of mine: “You really seem to like buildings,” she said. And it was true: although architecture wasn’t the real subject of that piece, I had devoted a lot of attention to the buildings. It was a very intuitive, helpful observation. I decided to see what would happen if I moved architecture toward the forefront. I took a good course in modern architecture at Wash U. There seemed to be a good analogy for fiction, because you’re creating this structured experience for people. I ended up deploying the architect Bernhard as a sort of resident spirit or shadow protagonist of the novel. My wife also studied urban planning and works for a nonprofit developer here in St. Louis. So the woman I love is closely connected to architectural preservation.
I liked that what I saw as the climax of the story happened during a performance of Berg’s opera, Wozzeck. This is a very dark opera and I felt that it really made sense with the rest of the story. What made you choose this performance?
By that point in the novel, I wanted to give the sense that Norberg’s defenses are collapsing. He’s an elaborately guarded character, someone who has constructed all these ways to obscure the truth about himself. By the time he gets to the opera, those defenses are breaking down, and Norberg experiences this as a kind of madness. So I wanted to use an opera that broke with conventional form, something shocking and upsetting. Wozzeck was the pretty clear choice from early on. I saw a performance of the third act recently and it’s still very disturbing. That ending! All the children taunting the little girl, “your mother’s dead.” It’s just brutal.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, is there any music you associate with The Facades?
I usually don’t listen to music when I write. I think that’s because I regard the making of sentences as a kind of musical composition. But I certainly had music in my head as I wrote, and some of that ends up being mentioned in the novel. Schubert’s quartet Death and the Maiden plays in the background of an important scene. I am also a fan of Quartet for the End of Time, by the French composer Messaien. It’s the kind of music that would be playing in the hallways of the Traumhaus, I think – lovely but unsettling as well.
Lastly, are you working on anything new these days?
My next project is a horror novel set in a Midwestern college town. But this one’s probably a horror novel in the same sense that The Facades is a mystery novel – which is to say, not exactly.
Eric Lundgren studied at Lewis and Clarke College and received an MFA from Washington University. He lives in St. Louis.
Peter Swegart is twenty-three years old and lives in Portland, Maine. He is a musician, reader and a fan of a second piece of cake. He writes poems whenever he is lucky enough to feel like he is able to do so.