The Making Sense of Things by George Choundas is a collection of twelve stories that pulse with memory, magic, and myth—all our favorite ways of trying to make sense of things.
Winner of Fiction Collective Two’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, Choundas’ stories are filled with vivid and unforgettable characters. A fiercely independent woman puts the man who loves her to unconscionable tests, never guessing that arson, suicide, and canine obesity will yield a magical kind of happiness. A honeymooner in Venice, addled by fever and second thoughts, commits by dumb error a double murder. A brisk lawyer founders when a car wreck claims his son and ex-wife, then discovers that the desperation of grief is a kind of hope.
The following is an interview with Choundas conducted by UAP intern Simran Mahbubani.
As a corporate litigator and former FBI agent, were you always interested in writing or did the practice sneak up on you?
My mother’s a reading teacher. On weekdays she taught reading at P.S. 27 in the South Bronx. On weekends she taught a love of reading to her son. He, in turn, spent thousands of boy-hours spooning up peanut butter with one hand and pages of Treasure Island with the other.
Now, you may be a person who worships books. You may think of reading not as pleasant or edifying or comparable to any number of nice things like swimming and stapling things together, but as central. If you’re that sort of person, then what verb is big and strange enough for how you feel about writing? Authorship for the book-lover is a heady and ridiculous notion. It’s not totally comprehensible. And because the best parts of life are the absurd ones and the impossible ones, I guess writing seemed to me like something to take a crack at.
Put another way, reading’s a kind of magic. A writer sitting at a sauce-smeared kitchen table puts words on a page. That page detonates thoughts and feelings in a perfect stranger miles away. How do you do one end of that experience and not say about the other, Me want try that?
Have any experiences from your FBI days found their way into your stories?
Not yet. Maybe some day.
Your stories are a wonderful mix of sci-fi, mystery, and fairy tale with a dose of realism. What works and authors inspired you to write in such diverse genres?
“Wonderful” is a nice word. Thank you.
Spanish was my first language. (My reading teacher is Cuban.) In college I read a lot in Spanish by a trinity of very special authors: Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Julio Cortázar.
At around the same time, I took a course in American contemporary fiction. I read a lot in English by a different trinity: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Ethan Canin.
This bilingual bunch of authors merged and crackled and did something permanent to my head. Ever since, when I read fiction, it’s like I’m snooping over the author’s shoulder. A sweet-ass modifier will distract me for three pages when I’m supposed to be paying attention to the plot. I’ve got this deep, other-level admiration for writers who can do it all—you know, the kinds of writers who can push into fantastical settings and dare us not to believe what they’re telling us and then, because the storytelling is perfect and the wordsmithing is awesome, make us feel it anyway.
Like Katherine Dunn and her novel Geek Love. That is a freaking decathlon of a book. Anything you can do she could do better. And then she did some things you wouldn’t dare. There’s a special clutch of books that, at least for me, risk more than seems possible and then don’t just pull it off but spray up a cloud of awe as you nose through the pages: like Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica and Homer’s Iliad. Continue reading