Jess Walter and Ben Fountain come to Gonzaga

Jess Walter knows that the Achilles heel of any woman is her horoscope. This fact centers the short story aptly entitled “Virgo,” which Walter read aloud on January 30 at Cataldo Hall.  The fourth event in the writer series featured some of the nation’s brightest writers: Jess Walter and Ben Fountain.

Tod Marshall introduced the event and gave a brief salute to his friend Walter. Marshall gave the author high praise citing a Publisher Weekly Review on his new collection of short stories, We Live In Water, that read, “You know the way websites recommend books by saying if you liked this, you’ll like that? The algorithm for this debut collection is straightforward: if you like to read, you’ll like this book.” Simultaneously, Marshall jabbed at Walter’s basketball playing skills and ferocious scrappiness on the court.

Walter is somewhat a hometown hero, born and raised in Spokane. A former journalist for “The Spokesman-Review”, one of Walter’s novels “The Financial Lives of Poets” takes place within Spokane. With a crooked smile to go with his constant wit, Walter quickly made the hall erupt with laughter. To introduce his excerpt from his new collection of short stories, Walter said, “I was trying to decide what to read tonight and I went back and forth between funny or sad. I decided to go with disturbing.”

“Virgo” was disturbingly funny and sad: a trifecta of emotions that couldn’t let the audience decide whether to feel amusement, despair, or remorse about laughing. The short story followed a Features editor who toys with an ex-girlfriend Tanya by thwarting her horoscope she so devotedly loves. Walter proceeded to introduce Ben Fountain, an ex-lawyer who dropped the practice to take up the pen. After praising Fountain’s novel as “the best book of 2012,” Walter exited and Fountain took the stage.

Ben Fountain’s honeysuckle southern drawl juxtaposed the content of his novel that deals with disastrous affects of the war on our nation. His novel is entitled Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and tells the story of Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old member of the Bravo Squad returning to the United States as heroes after fighting in the Iraqi War. The squad goes through an intense media tour to garner support for the war and will be a part of the halftime show with Destiny’s Child. Fountain was inspired by the real halftime show on Thanksgiving Day from 2004, which featured the hyper-sexuality of hip-hop contrasted by militants in fatigues. During the show, Fountain saw a group of young men who had recently returned from combat. They were clearly intoxicated and as Fountain astutely pointed out, “Why shouldn’t they be?” Fountain’s humility, dedication to craft, and palpable goodness make him what the New Yorker called, “A late blooming genius.”

The rapport between the authors was broken by a myriad of questions that provoked and challenged both of them. When asked about why Fountain wrote this novel he responded, “This is the book I needed to write, I needed to earn the right to write this book.”

One student inquired about both authors writing process. Both admitted to writing in the morning and Fountain elaborated, “Writing never gets easier. Everyday is a challenge.”

After a peppering of questioning, the authors adjourned to sign copies of their published works. Perhaps it is the English major in me, but am I the only one who gets extremely nervous when meeting exceedingly talented yet humble authors? With clammy hands I usually try to hand during the Our Father at Mass, I anticipated speaking to an author that had just dazzled the entire audience.

Upon meeting Jess Walter with a ridiculously stupid grin on my face, I can’t get over his unfailing kindness. He asks me if I want to be a writer, as though he can read it on my face. I squeak out a very professional, “Yes!” After scrawling in the impressive handwriting that can only belong to an accomplished author, I scuffle away after many thanks. Outside in the bitter Spokane, January weather I read his inscription, “Keep at it. Write. Read. Breathe.”

By Brenna Holland

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Categories: Life Abroad

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2 replies

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