Great House, Nicole Krauss's new novel, Great House, features four lives that intersect at a gargantuan writing desk.
You used to write poetry. Why did you move to fiction?
I felt in poetry that there was a possibility for perfection, and that was something that haunted me. When I started to write Man Walks into a Room, [her first novel]I began to understand that novels are necessarily imperfect. And for whatever reason, that spoke to my nature. As I've gotten to know myself better as a writer, I've gotten very comfortable with the idea of working very close to the line of potential failure. Maybe because I feel that in that place, there's a potential for enormous discovery.
How did you come up with the four stories in Great House?
I wrote for a year or so, tons and tons of stuff, and lots of it ended up in the trash. What emerged out of that were just these four voices that were the only voices out of the many I was writing that didn't reach a dead end, and that, rather than feeling less and less authentic, or less and less alive to me, were becoming more vivid, more convincing.
Your two most recent novels are unconventionally structured. Is there a special appeal for you in stories that are not rooted in straightforward narrative?
I think that novels tend to be, in some way, a structural blueprint of the mechanisms of the author's mind, and I happen to have a very strong spatial sense. So, for example, if I'm walking through a foreign city for the first time, very quickly my mind begins to see the city from above and to put the city together in an aerial way. That's simply how I think, and how I write as well. I've developed this habit of starting at very distant, foreign points and moving inwards. I'm trying to understand: what is the connection between these feelings, these people, these places, these ideas? It's the itch I have that needs to be scratched. And it pleases me.
Why choose a desk as a connecting point?
In Great House, it wasn't so much the desk that mattered, but the burden of inheritance—emotional inheritance. This is one among many of the things I was writing about: what we inherit from our parents and what we pass down to our children. When I started Great House, I had just given birth to a child, and I had all these questions about, not only, what do we pass to our children literally through the umbilical cord, but also what we pass psychologically. I felt that heavily. It really stuck in my mind, and I thought about it all the time. And so, somehow, the desk became imbued with all of that.