I'm pleased to announce that this post is part of the author's blog tour! If you are interested in following Michael on the tour, here's a quick schedule of events and link to pages!
5/23--Girl Who Reads and Clash Magazine
5/24--Alternating Current and Irresponsible Reader
5/27--Rainbow of Books
If you had all the time in the world, what would you do? I see that list forming in your mind: places you'd like to go, books you want to read. Maybe you'll finally finish restoring that old car or get that garden planted.
I didn't tell you—there's a catch. You have all the time, so much time in fact, that time literally doesn't move. It is even slower than those last few dragging hours of school before summer vacation, when you swear the second hand on the clock keeps going slower and slower and the sweat is sticking to the back of your legs and it's going to hurt when you have to rip yourself off the chair and you can basically watch the dust pile up on the bookshelves and what are they trying to teach you today anyway? Slower than that. Imagine that time has stopped entirely—it's totally frozen. The only only problem is, everyone else is frozen too. Everyone except for you.
That's the situation Duck finds himself in at the beginning of this book.
I found Duck to be a very interesting character. He's at a turning point in his life, balancing between childhood and adulthood. Duck is definitely not very mature yet, and he doesn't want to be, but he is being thrust into these very serious situations. He's had a falling out with one of his friends. He has to choose where to go to college, which is a huge step for deciding a future, but also it might mean moving away from his best friend who forms a large part of his identity. Most importantly, his mom has just lost her battle with cancer, a battle that he was fighting with her.
You grow up when you are faced with things like that. But in the face of the world freezing, Duck doesn't set out to face his problems, he continues to avoid them with some wild shenanigans about his hometown of Washington DC.
I think in the world of the book, the frozen state of things is very real, but it is also a metaphor for the stasis of Duck's life. He doesn't know where to go without guidance from his friends and especially from his mom. He doesn't know what's next for him and he certainly isn't ready for it. The freezing is a stay of execution from having to make these decisions.
I couldn't help but laugh when he takes a visit to the museum. It is the perfect representation of the frozen world: all these taxidermy animals posed in natural positions in dioramas—that's what Duck sees everywhere now, a frozen museum scene of people getting coffee, driving cars, walking, watching TV, doing anything and everything, but at the same time, doing nothing. I guess at least at the museum things are supposed to be still...
The book is written with a light, irreverent tone that is very catchy. It's easy to like Duck, easy to ignore that he is ignoring his problems even as they are revealed through flashback scenes. I also enjoyed the asides—the guide to your frozen world sections—where Duck instructs readers on what to do if this ever happens to them. It reminded me a bit of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The book has some action in it too! There's a mystery to be solved, but whether or not Duck will get around to it is anyone's guess—he's got plenty of time after all.
How will he go forward with life? What if there is no forward? Ever? Tomorrow is Thursday, people. If the world froze tomorrow and you were the only sentient being left moving, would you feel good about the way you left things?
And now, an interview with Michael Landweber!
SHELF STALKER: First, a few warmup questions. What are you currently reading?
MICHAEL LANDWEBER: I’m in between books right now if you’ve got a recommendation. But some recent books I’ve enjoyed include The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.
SS: I'd recommend Adam Haslett's newly released Imagine Me Gone if you are in the market for a good literary fiction book. You can even read a review right here on my blog! Can you choose three favorite authors? Why those authors?
ML: Kazuo Ishiguro. I highly recommend Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s use of language and his ability put yearning and fallibility on the page is amazing.
Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried is a shotgun blast of a book. It is a devastating portrait of war and the soldiers who fight them. For me, it broadened my perspective on what a short story can be.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude taught me that the magical and the real could thrive together on the same page. His writing and the worlds he creates are so grounded that anything that happens, no matter how unusual, feels true.
SS: If you could pick one book to read again for the first time, what would it be, and why?
ML: Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky. I read that book in high school and remember being stunned and confused by it. It was a difficult read. But it opened my eyes to the possibilities of writing the anti-hero and ways to explore the morality of indefensible actions. I haven’t reread it since. I suspect that if I read it today it would be like reading it for the first time. As an adult, my take on Raskolnikov will certainly be more nuanced. Or maybe less. I don’t know. OK, you just convinced me to put this on my summer reading list.
SS: And here’s one that’s a segue into the book: If you had a superpower, what would it be?
ML: That’s a tough one. The temptation is to be like Superman who has so many different superpowers that they had to invent Kryptonite to give him any weakness. But that’s cheating. I think I would want to be invulnerable. It would be pretty cool to never worry about getting hurt, no matter how stupid you are being.
SS: Turning to your book, the first thing I’m wondering is where the idea for this narrative came from. Can you tell me about that?
ML: This is an interesting question because I honestly can’t pinpoint where the idea came from. It just kind of grabbed onto my brain and wouldn’t let go. I was drawn to the themes inherent in the concept. From the start, this idea has been a way to explore the boundaries of human morality when there are no external checks on behavior. In other words, if you knew no one was watching and you would never get caught, what would you do? That was the question I wanted to explore.
SS: The main character, Duck, is not only physically stuck in a frozen world, but he also seems to be stuck in this limbo moment in his life—that moment between childhood and adulthood. Really, he’s still a kid (and definitely still acts like one) but these adult responsibilities are beginning to pile up on him and he doesn’t quite know how to deal with it. Can you talk more about Duck? Do you think he is representative of most kids around that age?
ML: I think that Duck is representative of most teenagers. Obviously his circumstances are unique, not only because time has stopped, but because his mother has cancer and his father suffers from a mental illness. That’s a lot for him to deal with that most teenagers don’t face. But I think what is universal is Duck’s uncertainty about the future. It is a common feeling for teenagers on the cusp of living alone for the first time in their lives. Even when you’re lucky enough to have adults there helping guide you, that is a tough transition. It is a period marked by insecurity and often unfortunate choices. Duck is probably a little more conservative in his choices that most teenagers would be. But he is a cautious person, which is in part a direct result of dealing with both his mom and dad’s illnesses. But I think that confusion about one’s place in the world and concern about what is expected of you in broader society outside the bubble of your childhood is a common thing for teenagers.
SS: Duck also basically runs the show in terms of characters in the book. What was your process for writing a book with such a small cast?
ML: The first step in my process was to ask myself why I thought it was a good idea to write a book with such a small cast. After all, in the scenes where time is stopped, Duck is basically in a one-man show. But once I decide to write a story, no matter how challenging or inadvisable it might be, I follow it through to the end. With this book, I knew that it would only work with flashbacks. Duck’s backstory needed to have motion even if the world didn’t. Duck’s voice was also key since he was the reader’s sherpa into this odd world. In my view, that meant he had to be interesting and funny and intelligent and just a little bit tragic. Or at least he had to be sarcastic. Deeply sarcastic.
SS: And as a part two to that question, could you tell me about your writing process in general?
ML: My writing process has changed over the years. I used to write for 4-5 hours at a time, usually late at night. Even though a fair amount of time was spent staring at the wall waiting for words to come, I still managed to churn out stories and even drafts of novels relatively quickly. Of course, a lot of the material that I wrote in my younger days is locked in a drawer never to see the light of day. Now, I tend to write in shorter, more concentrated bursts of 1-2 hours. It can be any time of the day when I don’t have other obligations. I only work on one project at a time. I don’t outline – I just start at the beginning and write through to the end. I keep some notes at the end of the manuscript in progress to remind me where I’m going, but otherwise it is just me and the blank page until I have a first draft. I am not a fan of revising; I find it painful. But of course I do it and it usually takes three drafts before I am comfortable sharing the book with others. I also like to write with really loud music blasting whenever possible.
SS: How is the setting of Washington D.C. important to the book?
ML: I’m often guilty of setting my writing about places I’ve never been. Actually, that’s a bad habit I’m trying to break. I live in Washington, DC, so from the research perspective it saved me a lot of time to set it here. I already know the geography and the sights and what the culture is like (which is not necessarily what you see on cable news). And I needed a setting that would be compelling even if time stopped. Duck is writing a guidebook, after all. The White House and Congress and the Smithsonian museums were all fun places to set a teenager loose with no supervision. But on another level, I wanted the reader to believe that the entire world was frozen, rather than this being an isolated thing. When the capital of the free world isn’t moving, you’ve got to think that time is stopped everywhere.
SS: If you were the only person moving in a world where time stopped, what would you do first? (I’ll admit: I stole this one from your “reading guide” at the back!)
ML: Honestly, I’d probably panic and then look for someone to rescue me. But I think what I’d really enjoy if time stopped and I was the only person moving would be to have nothing to do but write my next book. Of course, I’d have to write it all out longhand. So I guess the first thing I would do would be to find an office supply store and steal a lot of spiral notebooks.
SS: And finally, are you working on anything new currently?
ML: I’m in the middle of the first draft of a new novel. It is set in the near future in a world where teleportation is a commercial form of transportation. Keeping with my books so far, it is another family drama with an unusual twist.
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.