“I've never been a fan of grand hyperbolic declarations in book reviews, but faced with On Such a Full Sea, I have no choice but to ask: Who is a greater novelist than Chang-rae Lee today?”—Porochista Khakpour, The Los Angeles Times
From the beloved award-winning author of Native Speaker and The Surrendered, a highly provocative, deeply affecting story of one woman’s legendary quest in a shocking, future America.
On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee’s elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in.
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class—descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China—find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.
In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Hometown:Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:July 29, 1965
Place of Birth:Seoul, Korea
Education:B.A. in English, Yale University, 1987; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, University of Oregon, 1993
Read an Excerpt
IT IS KNOWN WHERE WE COME FROM, BUT NO ONE MUCH cares about things like that anymore. We think, Why bother? Except for a lucky few, everyone is from someplace, but that someplace, it turns out, is gone. You can search it, you can find pix or vids that show what the place last looked like, in our case a gravel-colored town of stoop-shouldered buildings on a riverbank in China, shorn hills in the distance. Rooftops a mess of wires and junk. The river tea-still, a swath of black. And blunting it all is a haze that you can almost smell, a smell, you think, you don’t want to breathe in.
Excerpted from "On Such a Full Sea"
Copyright © 2014 Chang-rae Lee.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and On Such a Full Sea provides all that and more. . . . Lee has always been preoccupied by the themes of hope and betrayal, by the tensions that arise in small lives in the midst of great social change. His marvelous new book, which imagines a future after the breakdown of our own society takes on those concerns with his customary mastery of quiet detail—and a touch of the fantastic. . . . With On Such a Full Sea, he has found a new way to explore his old preoccupation: the oft-told tale of the desperate, betraying, lonely human heart.”—Andrew Sean Greer, The New York Times Book Review
“I've never been a fan of grand hyperbolic declarations in book reviews, but faced with On Such a Full Sea, I have no choice but to ask: Who is a greater novelist than Chang-rae Lee today?”—Porochista Khakpour, The Los Angeles Times
"“If you loved Never Let Me Go, you should read Chang-rae Lee’s new novel.”—Slate
“In his latest and boldest novel, On Such a Full Sea, Lee’s characters are Chinese immigrant workers in the United States—specifically Chinese workers from a long-elapsed China toiling in a fast-declining America a century or so from now. For Lee’s heroine, Fan, the issue is not acclimatization but self-discovery. The adventures of this feisty yet wary protagonist, together with a bleak but arresting vision of the future, keep the reader rapt and concerned for the fate of both beleaguered character and battered brave new world.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Now with On Such a Full Sea, one of our most silken storytellers, Chang-rae Lee, has imagined how it all goes wrong in the darkest installment of this literary night terror yet. The menace of Lee’s book derives from how closely it resembles reality. The haves and have-nots in his world are neatly balkanized. Cities produce, suburbs consume, and only the rich can afford the health care that keeps them alive. . . . With this strange and magically grim book, Chang-rae Lee has allowed us to leave the familiar behind, all so we can see it more clearly.”—The Boston Globe
“[On Such a Full Sea is] not just a fully realized, time-jumping narrative of an audacious young girl in search of lost loved ones, but an exploration of the meaning and function of narrative, of illusion and delusion, of engineered personalities and faint promises of personhood, and of one powerful nation's disappearance and how that indelibly affects another.”—Chicago Tribune
"The most striking dystopian novels sound an alarm, focus our attention and even change the language. The Handmaid’s Tale crystallized our fears about reproductive control; Fahrenheit 451 still flames discussions of censorship; and 1984 is the lens through which we watch the Obama administration watching us. Chang-rae Lee’s unsettling new novel, On Such a Full Sea, arrives from that same frightening realm of total oversight and pinched individuality. . . . A brilliant, deeply unnerving portrait."—The Washington Post
"Should every talented novelist have a go at dystopia? Probably not, but we can thank the gods of chaos that the trendy genre fell into the hands of Chang-rae Lee. Over four novels, Lee has mastered the art of lyrical realist portraiture, breathing life into immigrants at sea in modern America. Taking a bold turn with his fifth, On Such a Full Sea, he's equally deft at envisioning a failed America. . . . As Fan's wild journey takes her across the socioeconomic strata, Lee's novel brilliantly satisfies the genre's prime directive, which is to reveal the awful present by means of the terrible future."—GQ
"[The] haunting On Such a Full Sea . . . recalls the work of Cormac McCarthy and Kazuo Ishiguro. Here Lee weaves multiple plots into an ambitious epic showcasing a fearless fish-tank-diver heroine as she treks across a devastated landscape. . . . With its appealing protagonist as narrative glue, On Such a Full Sea layers stories within stories, building to its final, resonant catharsis."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Chang-rae Lee . . . is best known for realistic fiction about displaced characters of Asian descent. He sets his latest work, On Such a Full Sea, in a chaotic, dystopian America, but I'm happy to report that at its heart it's still very much another deeply soulful Chang-rae Lee novel. . . . The dystopia of On Such a Full Sea isn't showy. As in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, there's a welcome absence of sterile white laboratories and grand displays of oppression. instead Lee relies on specific, indelible images—a family of toothless acrobats who feed humans to their dogs, a group of anime-eyed girls held captive in a wealthy Charter woman's home—and his usual perceptive writing to get at the warped morality that can drive a world into decline."—Entertainment Weekly
“Chang-rae Lee’s On Such A Full Sea is so elegiac that it almost collapses into a morass of sorrow, yet it’s so well crafted it’s impossible not to see the story to its end. With his latest novel, Lee creates a world far into the future, where the boundaries between countries have frayed and a semi-dystopian state has arisen. Although Orwellian themes linger in the background, the book itself is really about one woman, and the symbol she becomes to the village she leaves behind.”—A.V. Club (A)
"[A] moving new novel."—Vanity Fair
"[A] riveting story . . . Lee’s brilliantly rendered dystopia resembles our America.”—More
"Lee's prose is sumptuous and at dimes discursive, and for that reason, this is a novel that demands the reader's full engagement. The rewards for that commitment are considerable; On Such a Full Sea is an elegiac and often unsettling glimpse of a future that could be closer than we'd like to think."—Bookpage
"It's an engrossing read, and Lee's skills as a world builder of the finest order are evident in every chapter."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Lee, always entrancing and delving, takes a truly radical leap in this wrenching yet poetic, philosophical, even mystical speculative odyssey. . . . Lee brilliantly and wisely dramatizes class stratification and social disintegration, deprivation and sustenance both physical and psychic, reflecting, with rare acuity, on the evolution of legends and how, in the most hellish of circumstances, we rediscover the solace of art. Electrifying.”—Booklist (starred review)
“The title alone is an astonishing feat of encapsulated genius from the inimitable Lee. . . . Brilliant . . . A heart-thumping adventure.”—Library Journal (starred review)
"A harrowing and fully imagined vision of dystopian America from Lee. . . . The potency and strangeness of [his]characters never diminish the sense that Lee has written an allegory of our current predicaments, and the narration, written in the collective voice of B-Mor, gives the novel the tone of a timeless and cautionary fable. Welcome and surprising proof that there’s plenty of life in end-of-the-world storytelling."—Kirkus (starred review)
Reading Group Guide
On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee's elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in.
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class-descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China-find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.
In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan's journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
ABOUT CHANG-RAE LEE
Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction; A Gesture Life; Aloft; and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Selected by The New Yorker as one of the “20 Writers for the 21st Century,” Chang-rae Lee is Professor professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the a Shinhan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yonsei University.
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Chang-rae Lee
Chang-rae Lee has always been a master at exposing, with immense generosity, the intricacies and contradictions of human psychology. His first three novels are confessionals, narratives of men often taken to be less complex, in some ways less feeling and in others less treacherous, than they actually are. His fourth novel, The Surrendered, is a multi-generational story with three protagonists whose fates are set in motion by the horrors of the Korean War. On Such a Full Sea in some ways his most intriguing yet begins in B-Mor, an impeccably restored and unsettlingly well-ordered future Baltimore, shortly after one of the residents, Fan, has fled the safety of the city for the dangers of the counties. Fan is presumably in search of her boyfriend, who has been recently (and unceremoniously) taken away. The story is told in the first- person plural, be a communal "We," the narrators being descendants of "New China" immigrants who clung to their lower-middle-class existence by working rote but exhausting factory jobs and never being the nail that sticks up.
I finished reading the novel during a train ride from Springfield, Mass. to Penn Station, past countless crumbling smokestacks and deserted factories that did nothing to lessen my sense that we are already half- living in this dystopian world he portrays. The following week, Chang- rae Lee and I met in Manhattan to talk about On Such a Full Sea. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. Maud Newton
Maud Newton: I've been a fan of your novels for a long time, but this is a really different kind of thing.
Chang-rae Lee: Yes. Obviously, I knew it was a very different kind of thing, but I tried not to think about it. The more I thought about it, people asked me what I'm working on and I started talking about it, I'd get kind of scared. [Laughs]
MN: It's both futuristic and contemporary, quasi-apocalyptic yet hopeful about humanity at the same time. A couple of years ago you told James Mustich that you were working on a contemporary novel. Is this that book?
CRL: No. But this book came out of that book, and that book was about contemporary China. I had gone to China and done research, and it was going to be focused on the factory cities along the Pearl River Delta, outside of Shenzhen. It was going to be a social realist novel about that whole world, and have an American connection, and it was just going to be this big, sprawling book about China. But after doing all the research I really enjoyed it, going over there and seeing everything. I went into this cool factory and saw all the dormitories, this whole little world...
MN: What was your primary impression of it? Mostly depressing, or was it...?
CRL: It was not mostly depressing, and that's one of the things that I think I drew upon for writing about B-Mor. It was okay. It wasn't awful, not brutal Dickensian conditions. It wasn't sleek or like something you'd see in Norway. It had sort of everything a cafeteria, a tiny little infirmary, a dormitory where eight girls would live together in a room a little smaller than this, probably about 14'-by-14' or 12'-by-12'. Eight people, so two four-person bunks. But high ceilings, I think by design, so they could hang their clothes as they dried. They did everything in this little room.
It's not the kind of place that you would ever really want to stay, but I am sure a lot of these people from the provinces had very poor conditions growing up, so this might have seemed pretty decent to them. But I think you would still quickly feel as if this is a workplace, this is about efficiency. There's no ornamentation. There are no nods to anything aesthetic. It just works, and it's good enough. It's sufficient.
They didn't allow me to speak to workers, but I watched them. Doing some more research and seeing how they interacted, I felt as if it was a bargain they were making. "I'm going to up my standard of living to some middle-class comfort level or approaching that, I can send money back, but I am going to work like a dog, without any kind of fun. I'm going to be part of this, and put myself into it." That's I guess the sensibility of that, kind of putting yourself in a compliant situation.
MN: That comes across so powerfully in this book, the incentive to be compliant. You can really easily put yourself in that situation, and just think, "Well, I would do that, too, except I probably wouldn't be able to clean a fish tank or maintain produce or whatever."
CRL: You would learn. That's the thing, all these people, these young girls, they came from these dirt villages, and now they're making these little tiny motors. They were all trained to do their job. And they don't have a very difficult job. It's monotonous, but we all could do it. It's a matter of just putting yourself in the mind-set of "this is my life." That's what was kind of chilling about the whole thing. About all factory work in general, but in the context of China...
MN: Living there and having it be not just a deadening day job that you go to, but actually the thing that is your life...
CRL: It is the life.
MN: The structure of your life.
CRL: Yes, yes. And that captivated me, in a way. That's something that I didn't realize I was going to learn. What I got out of it was that feeling. So I was going to write this novel, but I came back and I started writing it, and I was doing good journalism, but I was wondering, "What is the fiction aspect of this?" Sure, I have a character. I can get into her head or his head. But what's really my angle here? Why do I really care? It's not enough just to show what's going on.
MN: In that prior interview, you spoke really powerfully about the smallness of the characters' worlds in your last book, these individuals caught up in the Korean War and other huge dramatic events. You said, "[T]here's something poignant in watching an ant move.... She picks up this little breadcrumb that's three times her size and just keeps walking. The more you watch that, the more you're moved. Look at this modest but incredible scene of life." And you mentioned being awestruck not just at political forces in the world "but also the acts of a single human being."
One thing I find so fascinating and puzzling in a good way about this book is how you simultaneously managed to create this sense of the individual and this sense of universality. So it's narrated in the first- person plural...
CRL: The "we." That came about quite early.
MN: The title is taken from Julius Caesar, and the passage in Julius Caesar that it comes from is also in the first- person plural. "On such a full sea are we now afloat..."
CRL: I've been reading Shakespeare a lot lately, because I was bored on planes. I don't like to watch movies on planes, so I thought, "You know what? I should just freshen myself up on some Shakespeare." And I was reading Julius Caesar, I loved it, and I came across that quote, which is he's speaking metaphorically it's about opportunity and taking risks. Even though he's speaking metaphorically, just the image of it, this tide, this wave that this little girl would be on. Does the wave come from herself, or does it come from outside? She seems so persistent and irrepressible in a certain way, and I love that idea of the sea rising, and that she was a diver, and I thought, "That's perfect."
MN: It really is. And it's metaphorically apt, in the world she leaves behind. Another thing that fascinated me was the stuff about blood. I've been working on a long piece about ancestry, and thinking a lot about growing up around my father's obsession with the "purity of blood." And this comes up among the new China settlers in B-Mor, and the "native population" that was there. I love the part where the We finds out that a beloved aunt is mixed-race.
And it's clear that, much as in our world now, there was overt racism at one point in B-Mor, and the people who were living in Baltimore were marginalized and quarantined and slowly forced out, and now there's this more insidious sort of awareness, and nobody really knows what it means. Then you bring in this character, Reg, who is C-free free of a disease that sounds a lot like cancer, that plagues everyone else and so there's all this curiosity about him and his genetics among the Charters, because he's mixed-race, and obviously so.
CRL: Well, I knew when I was setting the book in the former Baltimore that there would have to be some racial consciousness by somebody at some point, but it aligned very nicely with how I thought about these people who had come over, because so much of their identity is a group identity. That's why the "we" is the we. But that communal identity only works if we can really identify the We. [Laughs]
MN: That's what's so fascinating also about the We here! I was thinking of, of course, Brave New World and 1984, but mostly I kept thinking of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and also the Joshua Ferris book Then We Came to the End. In both of those books, there is this deep psychological insight into the modern world and where we might be headed. And also, especially in the Ferris book, there is philosophical awareness of the way people behave in groups.
MN: It's very generous, but also incisive. I felt that here, too, and even more so because of these extreme conditions that you make feel so accessible and familiar. And then you overtly brought in the problem of "Well, what do we really know about Fan?" As you're reading, you're like, "Oh, it's fascinating that this happened," and then you're like, "Well, maybe it happened, or maybe the We is just imagining it."
CRL: Well, so much of the We's interests it has a lot of interests, but one of the interests is, "Who are we?" And the We is not authoritative enough to come down and say, "This is it." So I wanted a We that, particularly in this question of blood and kind...would have an anxiety about it.
MN: It also implicates the reader, even if you can't relate to the specific thing that the We is talking about.
CRL: Yes. That's the nice thing about the We, first-person plural. It's almost second-person address. It draws you in, and so you are suddenly looking... You are the one questioning, you are the one who is wondering. What is it about Reg, and how does he reflect me? Is it because he is mixed that he is so pure of C? What does that say about us? But these are all things that I didn't really know when I started out.
MN: Did it take some time to figure it out?
CRL: It did. The We classically would be a chorus, and a chorus that had the benefit of a certain kind of omniscience and authority and a moral authority. I thought, yes, there were going to be aspects of that to this We. But real reason why I wanted to do the We was that I wanted the story to be both an adventure tale, following Fen...
MN: Which it is. It has that fun, propulsive adventure-story quality.
CRL: I wanted her to go out and discover the world, but also that each discovery would put into question some aspect of their origin point. I wanted the We to then be deformed in some way, as a moral, authoritative conscience. It's a conscience, but it's a conscience that doesn't know what the rules of conscience are as we go through.
MN: That anxiety is fascinating. The We starts out very censorious of Fan, while being mildly sympathetic in some ways, and then increasingly becomes more and more sympathetic and identifies with her more and more, and then transforms her almost into a hero. Which people and cultures tend to do over time.
CRL: Partly, I think, it's because once you start telling a story - - because that's what the We is also doing, it's also telling a story once you begin narration, the narration, in certain narrations, wants to let someone rise. It has to. If it doesn't, then what do you have? Why are you telling this story?
MN: And the We more than anything else almost creates that need.
MN: The world that you describe is so familiar in various ways. It feels, at least for people who tend to view things in an apocalyptic way sometimes (and I do), that we're right on the edge of a world like that, a world where there are the Charters, the wealthy, privileged people, and the counties, who are the marginalized people who live in lawlessness with no recourse and no medical care...
CRL: No infrastructure.
MN: Right. Then there's the in-between stage. Obviously, the B-Mor facility is much more regimented than the life of a typical office worker today, or even a factory worker in America. But it's still recognizable enough that it really doesn't feel like that much of a stretch.
CRL: Well, it's that society's version of the middle class. The middle class, but the middle class is so regimented, and that's what's scary about it.
MN: Yes, and if you won't stay within the parameters that you're allowed to exist in, you'll be released into the counties.
CRL: That's my anxiety about now. We all know and we all have the sense of how fragile actually our economic position is as individuals and... You read stories all the time about people who have a perfectly good, upper-middle-class life, and then suddenly, BOOM. Right?
CRL: That and the income disparity, and that entails education disparity, healthcare disparity, everything.
MN: And the way that you write about that, especially the education and the healthcare and the insidious discrimination, it really could be about this moment almost.
CRL: It really could be... So I never felt like I was writing about the fture. These are all my very present anxieties. My other books have been about a person's consciousness about who they are, how they fit into this world or this society. This book is the first book I think I really felt like I was writing as a citizen of this world, and letting in all my anxieties about the world, about the divisions in class and the gulfs in wealth, all those anxieties, and my anxieties about community, too, about the joys and also the really scary parts of having such a tight community.
MN: It's really thoughtful and generous in that way. I was constantly folding down the corners of pages in my galley so that I could go back later and ponder the We's observations. I love the section about the rash of spontaneous group defiance in parks where word seemed to spread but no one could really pinpoint how, "as if we each had a solitary desire that should not be named but whose expression, once sparked, was so instantly enacted that it felt as pure and instinctive as fleeing from a house fire."
There are so many beautiful, poetic observations about groups, their desires and tendencies. Without them, this would just be another quite possibly brilliant, but another ironic dystopian book. I mean, there's irony here, for sure, but that's not the predominant feeling I get from it.
CRL: I'm glad you feel that way. Again, I didn't set out to write dystopic fiction. That's not the model in my head. I just had to set it in a certain place so I could address certain anxieties of mine which are always about the dramas of a particular people. I'm glad you brought up that ant quote. That's sort of how I guess I'm feeling about all of us more and more. Maybe I'm getting older, and I feel like I can cast myself against this huge screen, I'm seeing things more contextually than personally, more and more.
Someone asked me, "Well, you could have had it just in a first-person singular." But I didn't want one person's voice, tonality, being. It's not about personality in that way.
MN: Not like Native Speaker.
CRL: Right. It's not about that. It's not about one person's view. I mean, Fan is an individual, but she's not the same. We don't know her the way that we know other heroes. And I purposely shied away from doing all the normal things that I would do for the protagonist.
MN: What are those things that you would normally do?
CRL: Well, we would get deep inside her head about this issue and that issue, so we'd get all the little nitty-gritty of moves of her consciousness. We'd get much more of her voice. She'd be much more of an actor. But she's like a mirror to everybody she comes into contact with. She inspires them to expose themselves. I always think of her as like Nature. She's just there. Then people react in certain acts. Like, "Look at that tree; I want to cut it down" or "Look at that tree; I want to dress it up." But it's all about what she seems to evoke in everybody she meets.
MN: She's a very small woman who seems much younger than she is, and, as a small woman who, when I was younger, always seemed younger to people than I was, I could relate to some of that. Obviously, I wasn't like Nature. But I've become aware that people feel able to project things onto people who are small and seem innocuous.
CRL: Yes. Seem innocuous. But somehow, Fen inspires them. It's not just projection, but it's a certain kind of inspiration.
MN: Yes, I love that! She's a hero.
CRL: Even if it's dark inspiration sometimes. I was really fascinated by her. Someone asked me, "Is that the difference between a Western hero and an Eastern hero?"
MN: What did you say?
CRL: Maybe. I don't know. But the Western heroes we know - - in literature, it's someone who is picaresque, larger than life, very vocal. And she's totally the opposite of that. The heroes of my previous books are very Western, in a certain way. But maybe this one isn't. And the We, who does have some personality and a modulation to their consciousness and person it's more tentative.
MN: On the subway here, I was imagining what a movie of this would look like. I think it would be a wonderful cinematic story.
CRL: I think so!
MN: I do keep thinking of her almost as a superhero, which is not how I felt when I was reading the book at all. But the more I've thought about it, the more she's started to seem like that kind of character.
CRL: Yeah. Page by page, she's just sort of there. She's in place. Maybe that's her gift, to be in situ.
MN: I've read that your father was a psychiatrist, and I'm wondering how you feel that this, if at all, has informed your own way of looking at people and your own writing.
CRL: I think it influenced me a lot, because of the sort of person he was, and maybe I'm a little bit like him. He was kind of bookish, curious about people. It wasn't just that he wanted to be a psychiatrist. He actually wanted to be a psychoanalyst.
MN: I did read that, I think in Charles McGrath's profile.
CRL: His language skills just wouldn't allow it. It was impossible for who he was, a twenty-seven-year-old immigrant from Korea who had never spoken English on a daily basis. But when I was growing up I was just writing about this for the Times I read a lot of his psychology texts. I really enjoyed them. They were just great stories to me about all these strange characters, people with problems. Then later, when I was in college, I actually worked at a clinic, a psychiatric clinic, as a physician's assistant, a nursing assistant.
MN: Did you like that?
CRL: I did. I would just sit with people. Most of the people weren't very interesting in the sense that they just were totally out of it. But I've always been very curious about people, and I've always really liked people the phenomenon of people. Even a person who is a total asshole, I still sort of appreciate them in a way that I think other people might not, just because they have an emotional reaction that precludes any kind of further study.
So I think the life of the mind and the character of the mind has always been something that's been in my family and in my life.
MN: I wanted to ask you about that. For me it ties back into those questions of blood and inheritance and environment. Does that sort of thing get passed down genetically? Or is it a learned behavior? Or is it some combination?
CRL: I think it's definitely a combination with me and Dad. I guess we're both sort of patient, in a way, with people. I always felt he was very patient with people.
MN: That's a constant through your books. There is this patience with people. Even the narrators of your first-person novels are, maybe at times to a fault, patient with people.
CRL: Yeah, they are.
MN: Do you feel like talking about what you're working on now?
CRL: I think I'm going to pick up the China business, but in a slightly different way. It's going to be more focused on this one character, a fellow who is a more entrepreneurial type, kind of a Horatio Alger type. This guy is a sort of world-beater.
MN: Which brings us back to the parallels between our world and the different economic classes in On Such a Full Sea, the counties and the facilities and the Charters. CRL: We all know it's happening, and yet there's not really a lot of talk about it. I mean, there's the Occupy people. But there's not a groundswell of worry. It's beyond me why people aren't more worried about it. This minimum-wage thing is partly a worry about it. Now we're really thinking, "Wait a minute, these people, they get minimum wage and then they need food assistance?" These are working people.
MN: The stuff where you see Wal-Mart having food drives for its employees.
CRL: I know! It's no longer some Republican story about people who don't want to work. These are people working two jobs. So what are we offering them in our society? Zero. All that stuff makes me crazy.
December 4, 2013