Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Q&A with Jeffrey Lewis




Jeffrey Lewis is the author of the new book Leonard Cohen: A Novel. His other books include the novel Land of Cockaigne. He lives in Los Angeles and in Maine.


Q: What inspired you to write Leonard Cohen: A Novel?


A: A number of things. I can't say there was just one.


Greece itself, where I taught for a year when I was young, and in particular the tiny shard of memory of a woman I briefly tutored there.


The appeal of writing about a bourgeois everyman, a life which to one degree or another I've lived into.


A long-standing meditation on whether the artistic process requires a certain ruthlessness for which romance can be an obstacle even as it is the wellspring of the art itself.


The myth of Apollo and Daphne, which in my reading of it anyway describes the origin of love out of lust.


Q: How would you describe your fictional Leonard Cohen?


A: As I wrote above, he is to me something of a bourgeois everyman, a guy who plays by most of the rules. Though not all of them. He has a stubborn streak demanding of him that he live. As well, he has a modicum of artistic talent - the "modicum" part could be either fatal to him or a kind of salvation.

Q: What do you think the novel says about names and identity?


A: Here I'd mostly like the book to speak for itself. Too much, I'm afraid, to reduce to a few lines.


Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew that it would roughly follow the story of Apollo and Daphne. That is, a god chases a nymph and she turns into a tree to escape him and when she turns into a tree and he will never have her, the god only then realizes how much he misses her and loves her.


I don't recall, and in looking at my notes can't even quite figure out, in how much fine detail I knew where Leonard's particular story would end.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Depends on the day.  I seem to be a) stalled on a new novel; b) revising a novel I began years ago; or c) doing whatever I can so that Leonard Cohen has its chance in the world.


In other words, in-between. But in-between what I don't know. I do feel it's a bit of a tyranny, mostly self-imposed, to always have to be "working on something." For decades I've liked the image of an ancient Chinese poet reclining lazily by a pond fishing.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: At the moment, Leonard Cohen is the favorite among my books. (Though perhaps I've said that or thought that about nearly every one of my books in turn.)


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jeffrey Lewis.

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