Thursday, June 6, 2024

Q&A with Alexandra Carbone




Alexandra Carbone is the managing editor of the publisher Hirsch Giovanni's Fritz Peters Collection. Fritz Peters (1913-1979) was the author of the 1951 novel Finistère, which is now available in a new edition.


Q: Why was Fritz Peters’ novel reissued, and what first intrigued you about the book?


A: I was nervous to read it, but definitely intrigued! Finistère is Fritz Peters’ most popular novel and a pioneering work of gay fiction. However, I was concerned about the age gap angle – an affair between a teenager and his (much older) tennis coach! I did not see how it could be handled well! It seemed lurid and illicit and I did not think I would like it, but I loved it.

I came away with understanding about topics important or curious to me: queer experience, why these age gap relationships happen and why they are doomed, teen angst and suicidality, divorce.


The characters’ tragic flaws feel real. When the characters fail, they fail because they are motivated by something less than unconditional love, though they are unaware of that. The novel builds suspense grippingly and has a memorable ending, but most importantly, it’s romantic.

Fritz Peters

In all his teenage naivete, the main character, Matthew, understands love in ways his “wiser” role models do not. I think that is realistic; loving properly requires a great deal of hope and I have known people with an innate understanding of it, like Matthew. It’s tragic that people who understand love have such a difficult time operating in a society that is motivated by concerns other than love.

We are reissuing all of Fritz Peters’ books because we appreciate his stories. We think they have relevance to today, deserve to be read, and will make great movies.


Q: How well-known was the book when it was first published, and how did people react to it at the time?


A: It was well received and sold well: 350,000 copies. The New York Times lauded it, with reviewer Herbert F. West writing, “So far as this reviewer recalls, this is the best novel he has ever read on the theme of homosexuality (Proust excepted) and its tragic consequences in a world made up of ‘selfish, ruthless, cruel, egocentric people.’” 


Gore Vidal wrote a glowing preface for it, ending with this line: “Mr. Peters has created a fine and passionate novel. It is almost as if two of those idealized youths in Plato’s ‘Symposium’ had for one brilliant moment come alive again in a sunlit beach near the land’s end of Europe.”


It was meaningful to a generation of queer readers who had difficulty finding stories that represented their realities. There was lots of titillating “pulp,” and societally sanctioned fiction that morally denounced homosexuality, but Finistère was different. Gay readers felt validated and seen, while straight readers gained a window into queer experience.


It was one of those books that was passed on from reader to reader for a good while, especially in queer circles, and it kicked off an explosion in gay fiction.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen? 


A: As Gore Vidal, and the novel itself, points out, Finistère means “land’s end.” Specifically, it’s a shore in Brittany with high cliffs and roiling currents. It makes me think of the phrase “the end of the line.”


It’s about an unsustainable situation that will lead to some sort of explosion, and about operating outside of society’s boundaries. It’s about all the “dreadful” currents in Matthew’s situation but also the beauty and transcendent possibility in such a stark place. It’s a symbol and a setting – and for me, very effective.


Q: What do you hope people take away from the story?


A: I hope they gain understanding about people different from them, and a voice from people similar to them. No matter who reads it or what they are like, they will find that here. That’s what makes the book so good.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The next step is to make movies out of these books! We worked with screenwriter Chris Adams on the screenplay; he brought so much personal experience to the adaptation and captured the most compelling facets of the book.


We are in talks with directors, looking for the right one to give it a vision for cinema. It’s important that they are competent at working with actors to portray subtle emotions, supplementing that with setting and action, and have familiarity with a queer point of view. It’s sad that Xavier Dolan stopped making movies, we were hoping to capture his attention.


We are also working on screenplays for Boyhood with Gurdjieff, The Descent, and The World Next Door, Fritz Peters’ other books that we want to see on the big screen, also all worth reading!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Finistère is available on June 4, and our version has a preface by the screenwriter, Chris Adams, and Jack Parlett, author of Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise.


Both co-authors have Ph.D.s in queer studies. Chris specializes in books from that time period, and Jack has researched the queer bestseller, so they did a great job putting the book into perspective – definitely worth checking out!


We also have an audiobook version, narrated by Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer, Into the Wild). He’s such an awesome actor, and it’s a great way to enjoy the book. Emile also narrated Fritz Peters’ Boyhood with Gurdjieff, also available as an audiobook.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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