Monday, November 17, 2008

Open Source: Chris Adrian - A Better Angel

Chris Adrian - A Better Angel
Open Source
Host: Chris Lydon

The writer Chris Adrian is a medical doctor, a pediatric oncologist, who seems to have known from the beginning that our bodies are not the problem. I think of Beatrice, an attempted suicide, “the jumping lady,” in “The Sum of Our Parts,” one of ten stories in Adrian’s shimmering, glow-in-the-dark collection A Better Angel. Beatrice is comatose, being readied for a liver transplant. But “that part of her which was not her broken body” doesn’t want to live. Her spirit lifts off, finally, “in search of a place without loneliness and desire; without misery and rage, without disappointment; without crushing and impenetrable sadness.”

In Chris Adrian’s world, the people who jumped out of the twin towers on 9.11 are still falling, some in the strangest of places. In “The Vision of Peter Damien,” for example, they are raining down on a medieval Ohio farm town which may also stand for Iraq. It’s a world where, as he says, “dead people don’t go away.” Out of his own experience and his own obsessions, Chris Adrian’s stories embrace the natural and the supernatural, articulate souls as well as hurting minds and bodies. It was his writing teacher at Iowa, Marilynne Robinson, who turned him toward theology, toward the unexpected pleasure of reading John Calvin, and then to Divinity School at Harvard.

Our long conversation here fortifies the hope that bad times make good books, and that Chris Adrian is as good as they get at making metaphors of this very strange moment. In one of his most widely read stories, “The Changeling,” which ran in Esquire with the title “Promise Breaker”, a single father hacks off his own hand with an ax to address the psychosis of his son Carl, who has taken on himself the pain of the 9.11 dead. “Is it enough?” the father asks. “And I think I mean is it enough to prove to them I love my son, or that I deserve to have him back, that I mean it when I say I promise to take better care of him, that I promise to be a better father, to unroot whatever fault in me threw him into the company of these angry souls who died to make us all citizens of the world…” In Chris Adrian’s cosmos of irremediable pain, father and son can both be seen meeting agony with love. “I am still a fan of happy endings,” as Chris Adrian said to me in conversation. “It was meant to be a happy ending.”

To Listen to the Interview

More on Chris Adrian:

Chris Adrian on his first novel Gob's Grief

Bookworm: Chris Adrian on The Children's Hospital

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