The novels of Sinclair Lewis influenced me, particularly Babbitt and the Zenith books. Philip Roth and Saul Bellow too. James M. Cain. Elmore Leonard. I’ve said this before: A single sentence in a Brian Moore novel changed my life.
But the book that really stunned me was The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. It was published in ’95, so I was already working toward becoming a novelist and came to it too late for it to influence me in a formative way. I’ve read it many, many times. It’s an account of the young life of the man who became Novalis, an 18th century German poet who is seeking his muse – which turns out to be an obnoxious 12-year-old simpleton. It’s about family, genius, loss and the inexplicable nature of love. Fitzgerald is magnificent, really: She never imposes herself on the story. It’s a tour de force without pyrotechnics. She just lets the characters develop. The story washes over the reader. It’s a miraculous achievement. It took me weeks before I stepped away from the glow of the characters and what happened to them, and then I thought, “How did she do that?” Until I asked that question, I felt as if I had lived the story. It didn’t sit within me as fiction. It was as if it happened to me.
Jim Fusilli’s novel Road to Nowhere was published by Thomas and Mercer in 2012; its follow-up, Billboard Man, will hit the shelves (and e-readers) this September. His other novels include Narrows Gate, Hard, Hard City, and A Well-Known Secret. Fusilli is also the author of the acclaimed Pet Sounds (an innovative exploration of the Beach Boys’ classic album) and rock & pop critic at the Wall Street Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @wsjrock. He lives in New York.
Book hyperlinks courtesy of Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, New York.