April 28, 2016
On sale now: Golden Delicious, by Christopher Boucher
by Christopher Boucher
A few years ago, my Chair at Boston College asked if I’d be interested in teaching a new course called “Walking Infinite Jest.” Students could read Wallace’s opus, she suggested, while touring some of the local settings—in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville—that inspired it. I jumped at the chance; I’m a fan of Wallace’s work, and I loved the idea of aligning this novel—any novel, frankly—with place. And who better to “walk the walk” than BC students? We could practically see Enfield (Wallace’s fictional setting, inspired by Brighton) from our classroom window.
I didn’t know at the time, though, how instrumental this course would be in helping me find my second novel, Golden Delicious. Since publishing my first book, 2011’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, I’d been trying to make traction with a new novel. I’d written dozens of new stories—one about a piano that changes your point of view; another about a field that grows fathers; a third about a wild sentence that’s adopted as a pet—but I didn’t yet know how, or if, they’d cohere.
“Walking Infinite Jest” was immediately popular, which surprised me—it’s one-credit course, after all, and our walks weren’t particularly glamorous: we read aloud by the Warren Street T-Stop; walked the grounds of the former Brighton Marine Hospital; stood in a parking lot where the Enfield Tennis Academy might have been located. But I think students responded to the rare opportunity to literally “walk the pages” of a novel. This was an entirely different way of engaging with the text; by following the imaginary pathways of Don Gately and the Incandenza family, we were conducting a sort of sensory translation of the book. Standing in that parking lot, we could locate the edge of the real and the moment that invention takes over.
Walking to class one day, I realized that I’d been pushing two important variables from the above equation out of my own new stories – a complex family structure and a vivid, surprising setting. I remember this moment as a sort of inner sigh: an of course. Of course I should be setting these stories in my hometown. Of course I should be writing about my family.
So I did; I set my mind loose in my memories of Longmeadow, Massachusetts (where I lived from the ages of two to eighteen), riffing on and inventing from my experiences and impressions. I was born two months premature, for example, and kept in an incubator for several weeks. In the novel, that incubator became a “Vox”—an iron-lung type machine that helps the mute narrator learn to speak.
Early on in my research about Longmeadow, I came across the fact that the folk hero Johnny Appleseed had once lived there. This news threw me – how had I not known this? Had I been told and forgotten? In any event, that single fact was a spark, and just the mythic foil I needed. I created a character named The Memory of Johnny Appleseed, who lives in—you guessed it—the town of Appleseed, Mass. I also started reading up on apples – cultivars, cross-pollination and grafting, aphids and other pests. Maybe this apple—the book I was writing, that is—would face an infestation of some sort. From worms? A worm isn’t so far from a line of type or a sentence. Could sentences—bookworms—be the pest that plagues Appleseed?
By then I was off and running. And while I still had a few years to go before the project took shape and solidified, I’d been given the gifts that I’d needed, and just when I needed them. They appeared—via David Foster Wallace, Johnny Appleseed, and many other sources—like fruit on a tree, ripe for the picking. All I had to do was reach up and grab them.
Christopher Boucher‘s Golden Delicious is on sale now. You can buy your copy here or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.
Christopher Boucher is a professor of English at Boston College and the editor of Post Road magazine. He is the author of the novels Big Giant Floating Head, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, and Golden Delicious, and the editor of Jonathan Lethem’s More Alive and Less Lonely, all from Melville House.