Adam Ross is a storyteller. He made Stephen King shit with fear with his first novel, Mr. Peanut. His second effort is Ladies and Gentlemen, is a collection of vividly dark short stories. We sat down with him to talk about Day of the Dolphin, the film that broke all our hearts.
The best written description of a break-up…
If you mean break-up in the modern sense, when two people sit down and end it then and there, absolutely nothing comes to mind. However, in Alice Munro’s remarkable collection The Progress of Love, in the story “Fits,” there’s a brutal fight between a couple that portends marriage’s demise because they say too much to each other, things that can never be taken back:
“You always make me think of a dog,” Lee said. “You always make me think of one of those dogs that push up on people and paw them, with their big disgusting tongues hanging out. You’re so eager. All your friendliness and eagerness—that’s really aggression. I’m not the only one who thinks this about you. A lot of people avoid you. They can’t stand you. You’d be surprised. You push and paw in that eager pathetic way, but you have a calculating look. That’s why I don’t care if I hurt you.”
Then her husband chimes in. The whole scene lasts less than a page, by the way, a marriage over lickety-split. It’s gruesomely amazing.
The best filmed depiction of a break-up…
This is an easy one. It comes from the 1973 thriller Day of the Dolphin, which my parents inappropriately and, perhaps accidentally, took me to see when I was six. It’s about a marine biologist named Dr. Jake Terrell, played George C. Scott, who’s trained a pair of dolphins, named Fa and Bee, to speak human language (they call him Pa). The CIA gets wind of his project and decides to use the two mammals to blow up Soviet subs by attaching mines to them. In what may be the most harrowing break-up scene I’ve ever witnessed, “Pa” pleads with Fa and Bee to leave the aquarium and make for open water before the rogue agents arrive to take them away.
“Fa,” Scott says, “you must go. Bad men are coming. You must take Bee with you and leave.”
“But Fa love Pa,” says the dolphin.
Scott repeated attempts to reason with dolphin—to explain evil to him—get him nowhere, until finally, in despair, he screams, “Pa no love Fa!” which drives the beloved creature away.
I’m welling up typing this because I’ve never recovered from it.
Is fiction–in your opinion–supposed to be believable?
Meaning realistic? Not necessarily. Believability—willing suspension of disbelief—happens for the reader, or it doesn’t. Great writing can make you believe nearly anything, however. Consider Kafka’s most famous first line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.” Could it happen? No. Do I believe it? Yes.
What I find more interesting is how you’re not ready to believe certain books at certain times. For years I tried to read Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom and couldn’t; then one night I picked it up and read it straight through in an eight-hour sitting. It’s a mystery.
Is there a good political writer still living?
I’m no expert but can someone tell me when Paul Krugman has been wrong in the last decade?
If Proust had to work for a living…
This question assumes I’ve read Proust and I haven’t. My grandfather gave me Remembrance of Things Past as a birthday present many years ago and along with Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Mann’s The Magic Mountain, large chunks of Joyce’s Ulysses, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, it remains unread.
And by the way, writing fiction is work, except it produces things that, until written, nobody needs.
Name two television shows which have the capacity of changing the world.
When you sit down to write–what is the most insistent thought that gets in the way of writing? [i.e.: “what’s the point, I’m just going to die?”]
“Is it perfect?”
A worse crime than complacency is…
Is writing instinctive?
Yes, but a highly trained form of it. See Paul Gauguin: “We must practice and practice in order to give the illusion of spontaneity.”
Is a book that shocks more important than a book that soothes?
Back to the idea of great works, they do both, it seems to me. When you read something great, there are those shocks of recognition: “I thought that too”; or, “She’s telling this secret I thought only I knew”; or, “Yes, I’ve felt that very thing.” This is also soothing because it confirms our universality; it relieves our solipsism. We’re not alone.
Something the Victorians got right…