Last night I went to the Richard McCann reading for his new novel, Mother of Sorrows, at Lambda Rising in the Dupont Circle section of downtown D.C.
If you're not familiar with Lambda Rising, it's a bookstore geared towards the Gay community in D.C. It was a lot of fun just browsing around the store beforehand. Erotica titles for both gay and straight readers and art books with nudes on the cover are not only prominent there, but turned face out. A high number of authors like Kathy Acker, Samuel Delany and Gertrude Stein who can be hard to find in a regular bookstore have a number of titles stocked there. A nice difference from the everyday B & N I normally do my browsing in.
McCann started his reading by explaining his book. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and left for a number of years when he hit adulthood. After returning to the area, he started using D.C. as a source of prime material for essays and stories. This material, which focuses on the D.C. suburbs of the 1950's, developed over the years into his novel.
One of his main goals was to create a suburb novel that works against the typical mode--meaning he set out to write them without irony and without presenting them as a lifeless limbo caught between the big city and the small town. He also admitted that much of the book--the characters, the basic events--is autobiographical. He explained that his writing always starts as non-fiction investigations into his ideas, obsessions and life and that he'll fictionalize the details as he goes for artistic reason and for clarity (his family, for example, is larger than the one presented in the book).
The two sections he read centered around Maria Dolores, the character based on McCann's own mother. Based solely on the small sections he read last night, the high praise he's received is well earned. The physical descriptions, the language, the details are all quite beautiful, but also worked well to define the character of the mother and bring her to life. Although a pretty serious book tackling tough subjects like family, sexuality, gender roles, and more McCann paints in nice strokes of humor. McCann's also an excellent reader of his own material, a skilll not every writer, myself included, possesses.
Although it will be a little while before I get to it, the reading inspired me to buy his book. Which, I suppose, is the whole point for him doing it and the whole point for my going.