Garver, the protagonist of your new story, “Texas,” is an artist
whose wife has left him, who is estranged from two of his three children
(and not especially close to the third), who drinks too much, and is
cynical at every turn. Do you think of him as a sympathetic character?

Well, he’s no one you’d want to trust. But I admire his
perseverance—though he won’t allow himself to admire it—and I think
there’s a part of him that wants to be a good man, despite the damage
he’s done and continues to do. That’s setting the bar pretty low, maybe,
but, as both a writer and a reader, I don’t have much interest in saintly
characters.

Have you known anyone like him?

I’m tempted to plead the Fifth. But, no, he’s certainly not modelled
after anyone I know—I’d call him a thought experiment. There comes a
time in most creative people’s lives when they recognize that they
haven’t turned out to be Shakespeare or Bach or, in Garver’s case, Miró.
(If they didn’t recognize that, they’d be more insufferable than
Garver.) And they may suspect that their own best work is already behind
them. So then what? I’d steer clear of a real-life Garver, but I had fun
with him on the page, if “fun” is the word.

Garver seems to have had a decent, if not stellar, career—he had an art
dealer and a teaching job at Pratt. His wife stuck it out with him until
their three children were grownup. Where did he go wrong? Why is he now
alone?

Who’d want to be with him for the long haul? He’s an entertaining
drinking buddy, and he’ll play good music for you, but he’ll keep you at
a distance. I imagine his wife stuck it out so long for the children’s
sake, unless she was a tragically slow learner. And “decent, if not
stellar”—a B-minus/C-plus—isn’t acceptable to Garver. Yet he has to
accept it. Unhappily for him, he’s an idealist.

The story opens with Garver keeping the doors in the house closed, so
as not to see the empty rooms of his departed family members—and then
disavowing the sentimental implications of that. Is his prickly way of
interacting with others a defense mechanism?

Absolutely. The porcupine is his totem animal. I probably should have
put one in the story.

Do you think that Ben is heading in the same direction as Garver?

I hope not, though he’d do well to lay off the weed. At this point, he’s
more trusting and tenderhearted than Garver—he craves Garver’s
admiration, poor guy—and he’s more hopeful, if sometimes with an edge of
arrogance. My sense is that he’s at least as gifted as Garver may have
been at that age, but perhaps not quite as intelligent or
self-analytical—which could bode well for him. And he’s got Lois loving
him and looking out for his best interests; if he has any sense, he
won’t come to resent her for it. But, as Garver says, life is long.

Why does Garver smoke pot with Ben a second time, knowing that he’s
been asked not to?

The superficial explanation is that these are boys being boys, bonding
over music and revelling in their little rebellion against Lois. The
darker, uglier explanation—which Lois recognizes, and I think prods
Garver to recognize, however fleetingly—is that he envies Ben’s youthful
promise and confidence and wants to ruin him.

You end the story with Garver rifling through his daughter’s kitchen
for a bottle of vodka, unrepentant. Do you think that he’s changed in
any way in the course of the story?

I don’t know if he’s changed, exactly, but I think he’s been forced to
see—again, however fleetingly—his own maliciousness. And he’s chosen to
accept, however halfheartedly—quarter-heartedly?—his daughter’s
overtures, and to hang out, however drunkenly, with her family. His
smite-your-brow insight that this is also his family is hardly a
road-to-Damascus moment, but Garver’s not St. Paul.

Is “Texas” drawn from something longer? Do you think that Garver will
come back in some way in your work?

As I recall, what turned out to be “Texas” was always going to be a
short story, and nothing longer. I’d had the premise and the characters
and the setting lurking around in my computer—in several computers—for
at least ten years, but I couldn’t see what should happen. I’d thought
that Garver (which wasn’t his name back then) would make some pathetic
move on the young man’s wife, and I suppose the triteness of that idea
made me resist following through with it. It now seems obvious that the
romance, such as it is, is between Garver and Ben. Yes, I imagine Garver
will come back—variant versions of him have been bobbing up in my work
for years—though not under that name, and with a different career and
personal history, and perhaps as a woman.

Were you thinking of any other stories or novels while writing this?
Are there any stories that you think of as models of the form?

No, I wasn’t thinking of any work in particular. But I always have a
Platonic template of the short story hovering, derived from John
Cheever’s “Goodbye, My Brother,” or Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You
Save May Be Your Own,” or Raymond Carver’s “Feathers”—or, or, or. It’s
funny: I hadn’t realized until just now that “Garver” was so close to
“Carver”; I’d been thinking of Bill Garver, William Burroughs’s friend
from his junkie days, and the old baseball pitcher Ned Garver. But let’s
pretend it was a deliberate homage.

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