Matthew Robinson Discusses The Horse Latitudes at Fiction Writers Review
The roles of grief and conversation in writing about war.
In a Memorial Day post at Fiction Writers Review, Propeller Books author Matthew Robinson discusses (with Propeller contributing editor Thea Prieto) the challenge of writing about war. The entire interview is well worth reading, but there are particularly compelling moments (for the interests of this site) involving Robinson chatting about The Horse Latitudes, his Propeller Books title that was a finalist for a 2018 Oregon Book Award.
While describing how the manuscript became informed by conversations Robinson had with veterans, especially at events where he read from individual stories he was still working on, Robinson mentions how he tried to incorporate that sense of conversation into the manuscript itself:
Within the book there are a series of letters written by the character Stone to me, the author, telling me how displeased he is with my attempt to share ‘our’ stories. The shape of those letters came from a class exercise assigned by Leni Zumas in which we took something in the works and played with its form. The content came from a need to acknowledge that no two people experience the same event identically, and this may contribute to what I sense as apprehension by some vets to share their stories—a fear of having their lived experience contradicted.
Memorial Day is, of course, a holiday meant as a time for reflection. Robinson discusses how grief plays a particular role in the lives of veterans, and that this looms over a particular section of The Horse Latitudes:
A grieving body is like a power generator. If that body doesn’t cry or vent or exert physical force, energy builds up. This energy affects perception, patience, access to empathy, higher levels of reasoning, and is carried in the muscles that operate humvees and machine guns. “The Rifle” is about how these men navigate grief energy, constrained by the masculinities they’ve ended up with, in the face of an ongoing deployment.
Robinson also talks about the difficulties civilians and veterans have connecting, or understanding how to talk to each other:
Civilians, talk with vets without expecting too much—most of us are new to this, and it’s scary. Be wary of vets who seem to have it all figured out, but still, listen. And ask questions and disagree freely, and we all should acknowledge the righteous hindsight we all have now but so few of us had in 2003.
Again, the entire interview is worth your time. Robinson describes the role author-imposed constraints played in his development of The Horse Latitudes, as well as the ways in which his latest writing moves into new territory by no longer having to observe those constraints. You can find the conversation at Fiction Writers Review.