Dark Passages: A Talk with Lawrence Block
For my newest LA Times column, I wanted to try something a little different. So instead of reviewing Lawrence Block’s new memoir STEP BY STEP, I met up with him early in May for a profile piece. The book is a rather complicated beast, and here’s why I eventually come to the conclusion that STEP BY STEP is something of an “anti-memoir”:
his life — "ever since crawling" — and ended up delving a great deal
into his early childhood, growing up in a Reform Jewish household in
Buffalo where, in one of the book's most curious moments, ham and bacon
were culinary staples but pork chops were strictly verboten. Block's
upbringing stands in contrast to his current relationship to Judaism
("it's never dictated my social circle, choice of friends or much in
the way of activity") and lends a certain irony to one of the book's
funnier moments, when he and his wife of 26 years, Lynne, are cut off
on an icy stretch of highway in northern New Mexico: " 'Oy, gottenu!'
cried the pride of St. Elizabeth's. While the boy from Beth Zion said
not a word while making the sign of the cross."
For another, Block gives as much weight to racewalking and his
formative years as to his penchant for traveling the globe. Whether
it's visiting as many towns named Buffalo as possible, retracing the
steps of an ancient pilgrimage over the Pyrenees to the city of
Santiago de Compostela, or staying in budget accommodations while
preparing for a morning race, Block writes as if he'd be at home in the
pages of Travel & Leisure or like-minded magazines….
<p> We also talked a fair bit about the notion of legacy, and his answers on that front differ from say, Cormac McCarthy or Norman Mailer (or any number of crime writers who have donated their papers to universities far in advance of their passing.) There was also quite a bit that I couldn't make room for because of space reasons, two points in particular. </p> <p> I pressed Block a lot during the interview on possible connections I made between writing and racewalking, but ultimately, his answer on that front was: "I don’t know how effectively you can compare writing and walking. One thing about the walking is that nobody else on earth gives a damn about how it works or not, and afterwards it’s done. And I don’t make a living as a racewalker. It’s a good thing I don’t have to. One’s a leisure time pursuit, one’s a career." </p> <p> And, related to his current lack of enthusiasm for novel-writing at the moment, came this exchange: </p> <div class="blockquote" style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>SW: So many people, be it fans or interviewers, are after you about whether you're writing about this character, that character. My own standpoint is that if you are writing great, and if not, not, but what keeps your interest in a particular project? Is it just easier to say I'm not going to do it and I don't mind?</strong></p> <p> LB: It becomes easier to not do it because it's more difficult to do it. I've started several books in the past year or two, and see no reason to continue with them. Or I see any number of reasons, but then have no inclination. This is subject to change at a moment’s notice, but the idea of sitting down and writing a whole book about the characters I've pursued so far seems, oh, like a task you'd assign to Sisyphus. And I feel really complete with all of that. That seems to me to reach a natural resting point, stasis. Just the idea of writing a novel of any sort seems like more of an effort than I want to involve myself. </div> <p> But if there's one general takeaway with regards to Lawrence Block, is that he'll forever confound expectations, and his plans are almost always subject to change. </p>