In You & Me, two old men argue on a front porch “somewhere between Bakersfield, California, and Jacksonville, Florida.” But the real setting is Padgett Powell’s head.
Where’d you find these two men?
I had no visualization. As characters, these two boys are not really distinguished from one another. They don’t have names for a reason. They’re just convenient position takers, taking somewhat oppositional positions in order to keep talking—more or less in the way that friends do. I tend to call this book a monologue as opposed to a dialogue because their positions are so suspiciously and conveniently similar. It is one mind having a little argument.
Is the book autobiographical?
The latest books are getting rather close to the bone, no doubt about it. Perhaps the openness of the voices relieves You & Me of a certain predictability and the accusation of autobiography. Nonetheless, it is. Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men was the beginning of a rather, probably unfortunate, series of steps into autobiography. I kind of wish I had never weakened so, but I did.
Why do you regret it?
Well, they’re kind of painful books. Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men was a sufficiently surreal text, so I began ladling on to one of the characters some things that are true about me and my father. After you do that, you’re worn out. You feel bad. You kind of wish you hadn’t said that stuff. Not because you’ve said bad things about people, but because you’ve been guilty finally of that thing that writers get accused of—that thing, prior to that, that you had the wit not to do. You feel bad for being indiscreet.
You & Me is concerned not only with what one makes of a life, but also how one ends it. Are you afraid to die? Are you afraid to commit suicide?
My personal position is that, before you get into the drool circle, you ought to be prepared to kill yourself. However, I’m beginning to see how everyone becomes too terrified to do that. Everyone clings. I used to think that I would be a nonclinger, that I had balls. But then, several years ago, I had a pit bull that was beginning to lose it, beginning to degrade, beginning to be an old man. And I thought, hell, before I hire a vet to put him down and throw him in the Dumpster, I’m going to feed this dog a steak and put him on a sit command next to a hole, and shoot him. Like a man. Well, I had just begun to realize that I really wasn’t going to have the nuts to do that when the savior stepped in. A bobcat or a cougar came into the yard and ate that dog—a little bit. That saved me from learning the hard way that I wasn’t going to have it in me to sit this dog down and shoot him. Unless you’re Hemingway, you’re going to wimp out.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve got maybe half a book. It’s the zaniest and stupidest thing I’ve ever come up with. It’s got Ted Turner, Andrew Lytle, and Vanna White, and it’s an improbable bit of business. And I don’t know if it’s going to be sustainable or not.
One of the old men in You & Me says that the words get better as one gets older. Do they?