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5 Questions with Alexander Maksik, Author of Shelter in Place

Newspaper: Blog City Lights
Date: Oct 21 2016

About Shelter in Place: Set in the Pacific Northwest in the jittery, jacked-up early 1990s, Shelter in Place, by one of America’s most thrillingly defiant contemporary authors, is a stylish literary novel about the hereditary nature of mental illness, the fleeting intensity of youth, the obligations of family, and the dramatic consequences of love.

Joseph March, a twenty-one year-old working class kid from Seattle, is on top of the world. He has just graduated college and his future beckons, unencumbered, limitless, magnificent. Joe’s life implodes when he starts to suffer the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and, not long after, his mother kills a man she’s never met with a hammer.

Joe moves to White Pine, Washington, where his mother is serving time and his father has set up house. He is followed by Tess Wolff, a fiercely independent woman with whom he has fallen in love. The lives of Joe, Tess, and Joe’s father fall into the slow rhythm of daily prison visits followed by beer and pizza at a local bar. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie March, Joe’s mother, is gradually becoming a local heroine—many see her crime as a furious, exasperated act of righteous rebellion. Tess, too, has fallen under her spell. Spurred on by Anne-Marie’s example, Tess enlists Joe in a secret, violent plan that will forever change their lives.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Alexander Maksik: My parents brought me to the shop long before I could read, and I remember the smell, the quiet, the creaking floors. Whenever we visited, they made it clear that City Lights was a sacred place and we always entered with the kind of reverence reserved for places of worship. But it was for them a place of worship and, really, it’s become the same for me. I come and spend an hour or so every time I’m in San Francisco, and I’m always relieved that it’s there and that it has mostly stayed the same.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

AM: I can only guess at this, but I think the first book I ever read on my own was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I remember loving it with such jealous passion and never wanting to put it away. I couldn’t bear that it ended.

I’m reading Marisa Silver’s new novel, Little Nothing, which is wonderfully strange and daring and potent. I’m totally mesmerized by it. I’ve also just finished Peter Orner’s Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live, which is the first book to make me cry in a very long time. Both such truly beautiful books.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

AM: As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

A Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

AM: “Come As You Are” – Nirvana

“Outshined”– Soundgarden

“Good Enough” – Mudhoney

“Symphony No. 3” – Gustav Mahler

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

“When 3 is 2” – Hammerbox

“The Obvious Child” – Paul Simon

“Dances of the League of David” – Robert Schumann

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

AM: In Makawao, Hawaii and it would be called Mauka Books. Our bestseller would be The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative by W.S. Merwin.