Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Karen Larsen (page 4)
 Talking with
Karen Larsen
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Are you writing another book?
Yes and no. There is a project that wakes me up at three in the morning, a project that I can not seem to rock to stillness. It is a book that I will probably write whether or not anyone will ever publish it. It’s different from the last; this will be a tale of color and glass set into an iron frame, fragility in the midst of an ancient city. Set in the Middle East it will be non-fiction, of course, as I sadly lack the imagination to be a novelist. You will have to wait for the outcome and the ending as I have not yet puzzled it out.
Have you read any other RPCVs, people like Theroux, or Hessler, or Sarah Erdman?
Hessler’s River Town and Erdman’s Nine Hills are in the waiting. I have heard tremendous things about both pieces, but I have yet to read them. Soon, however.
     Theroux and I are old acquaintances, although I have never met the man. Frankly, I am not sure that I would want to. It is trite, obvious, and probably unfair to say, but I like Theroux’s earlier work better than his latter, his non-fiction much more than his fiction. He is a gorgeous, bitter, painful and lonely writer. I come away from his books exhausted, ready to unpack, and wishing that he would take up gardening.
Are you as nice a person as you appear in the pages of your book?
   No, I don’t think so. My students claim I am a “hard ass,” mostly because of my policies on academic honesty. I get cranky and solitary when I am tired and even the people who love me best claim that I am stubborn to the point of self-destruction. However, I do make a great martini and I like to think that my dog is fiercely protective of me for more reasons than twice-a-day kibble.
Okay, but who are you really?
   Oh, I’m a little confused . . . but let me try to answer what I think you are asking and then we can clarify from there. Okay?
Okay. Start with your relationship with your biological parents and how that fits into your trip?
The adoption issue does add different kinds of thread to a weft that was originally designed to structure a relatively straightforward travel narrative.
     “Finding” Gloria and Dave happened on a number of levels and is for that matter, still happening. I did indeed know about them before I left New Jersey, and Gloria and I had met several years before. An incident that did not make it into the book was that she had come to my Princeton graduation and met my parents there for the first time. I won a departmental prize that year and when my professors asked my parents to stand and be recognized for their support of the work I had done, my mother also pulled Gloria to her feet and they stood together, the three of them, in the middle of all those cheering people. It was one of the finest things I have ever seen.
     Dave was much more of an unknown when I rode north that summer, but in considering both Dave and Gloria, and what roles we would or could play in each other’s lives, the element that I was most unsure of — and most nervous about — was meeting with their families. What I share with Gloria and Dave as individuals is grounded, at least in part, in biological reality. It is genetic and undeniable. That connection reflects little, however, of the important things that bind people together — communication, trust, affection and love. In many ways I felt like I was intruding upon the primary bonds that Gloria and Dave shared with their families and that in dropping into their lives, if only for a few days, that I would disrupt three families: theirs and my own. All of those things were huge unknowns as I started on that motorcycle summer, unknowns that needed time and communication to sort through. We are still sorting them through today.
     So indeed, yes, there are parts of the narrative and of the trip itself that function as metaphor for that search to define, or at least to explore, the nature of those connections with my biological family. How heavy that theme pulls on the pages, however, I leave to you to define. I will add that my publishers, Hyperion, were interested in seeing more of the family and adoption issue than I was willing to write about and that led to some tension.
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