the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Drinking Coffee with Kris D’Agostino, author of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac

with 5 comments

Kris D’Agostino’s debut novel, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, captures perfectly that anxious time after college graduation — the time when you realize everything you’ve been told about your education is wrong. Many of us, especially among the middle class, are raised to believe that with a college degree in hand the world is yours. For the majority of us, it doesn’t quite work out that way.

We’re never told of that in between period where we move back to our childhood homes, go on endless job interviews, possibly pick up a local retail job in the interim, and wonder when the glorious life we were promised is going to begin. In his afterword, Kris sums up the story he set out to tell: this is a coming-of-age story about a “generation’s grossly delayed plunge into adulthood.”

Instead of a position at the hometown bookstore, as was the case with me, Cal Moretti, our floundering protagonist, finds himself teaching autistic children at a local preschool, hoping to one day put his film degree to use. However, for Cal, life becomes more complicated. His father is diagnosed with cancer and his job as a pilot put on hiatus; his mom, having a tough time making ends meet, is forced to look into selling the family home; and the older brother, his younger’s polar opposite, steps in to help, putting the pressure on Cal to pitch in as well. Then there’s his teenage sister, who accidentally becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

The Morettis are a family to root for, and The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac is the sweetest story about family dysfunction you might read all year.

I sat down with Kris at a local coffee shop to talk about the personal nature of his story, the influence of screenwriting on his prose, and the lies we’ve been told about college graduation. You can read the full interview at The Nervous Breakdown. Here are some highlights.

The first question I have is going to be the hardest. Your first sentence is “I work with retards.” This book is so sensitive . . .

And that isn’t.

Right. I feel like that had to be a conscious decision.

Yeah, it was. Part of it was inspired by the fact that I was a huge fan of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape when I was in high school—probably college, actually. His treatment of that word, he does the same sort of thing. Not as overtly, but Gilbert has his challenged brother who they definitely use that word to describe and it came from someone who has some angst and is angry about some things.

But then, it’s also not about that. I have a problem when people get shocked about things like that. I worked at a preschool with autistic kids for eight months and there’s this weird gallows humor. I don’t know if it’s totally analogous but doctors make weird jokes about patients dying because they’re so in it. It’s not from a place of insensitivity; it’s just that sometimes things are funny and sad and I don’t like to draw black and white lines. I just think everything is gray.

I feel that when I come up to defend it, it’s many little things that equal a view of life.

How do you research the way people talk?

I don’t. I imagine people talking in my head or imagine real people I’ve heard talk about something analogous to what is going on and then take parts of that. Take two people having a fight about a relationship, I’ll think, “Wait, when have I heard two people arguing about their relationship in my presence?” and then I’ll pull little things from there.

I don’t do any research — unless I’m reading other books, taking things in, and not realizing I am.

When you read other books do you feel you pay more attention to dialogue?

Yea. I’m a huge movie person. I dropped out of film school. I consider myself way more versed and knowledgeable about film than I do about books. When I was in my MFA program at The New School I was the worst read person there. I’d be in class and everyone would be like, “And we all remember in Madame Bovary when this happened” and I’d be like, “I’ve never read that.” And all of my examples would always be movies. I think I got this reputation for being illiterate.

I thought you caught that period after college so perfectly.

That was one of the main things I wanted to do.

That anxiety. I remember graduating from college and thinking, “Wait, I thought I was supposed to have an awesome job.”

That’s exactly what I was saying. I feel like it’s so true. I talked to someone who had read the book who is 23 and it’s the same. Nothing’s changed. I was very immature, not ready for anything, when I graduated from college. I had no idea how to navigate the real world. I had no ambition to have a real job. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I mean, I had majored in literature and writing and all these people that I went to school with were putting on suits and getting these business jobs. Even they didn’t have it figured out but I had no idea what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to graduate. I was like, I’ll go back to film school and party for two more years; and that totally backfired on me.

After I dropped out of grad school the first time, I moved back home with my parents because I had no money at all and I had no job. I think I was 23. There were a bunch of people I knew who were in the same situation; it wasn’t just me. I had three friends in the same situation and we would do what I tried to portray in the book. We’d drive around in our cars and listen to music and watch movies and just talk nonsense the whole time. It was the post-college floundering around. That whole period — two…three-and-a-half years — it was the weirdest time.

You can find Kris on Twitter at @KrisDAgostino and on Facebook at Kris D’Agostino.

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Written by Gabrielle

April 3, 2012 at 7:05 am

Posted in books, interviews

Tagged with , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. This book sounds like a good read, I’m going to have to look into it. Thanks 🙂

    Lina~EccentricChai

    April 3, 2012 at 7:17 am

    • It is soooo good. I keep telling people it’s a perfect book club read. You’ll want to talk about it with friends.

      Gabrielle

      April 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

  2. Thanks for introducing me to a great new book!

    annagergen

    April 3, 2012 at 11:12 am

    • Thanks for reading the interview. Book is great.

      Gabrielle

      April 3, 2012 at 12:51 pm

  3. Autism is still a mystery to doctors since they cant exactly pinpoin the main cause of it. ..

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    Sang Spaziani

    November 29, 2012 at 12:13 am


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