Irina Ellison, the 30-year old protagonist of Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, could be framed as a bold and sardonic realist who deftly wrangles fate and becomes the master of her destiny. Or, in a less forgiving assessment, she could be called cowardly and selfish as she journeys to Russia on a rash, last-wish trip to meet chess champion and presidential candidate Aleksandr Bezekov. Bezetov—who’s mounted a sure-to-lose presidential campaign against Putin—also teeters between the poles of hero and fool, with a revolutionary background that blooms into a body-guarded presidential bid against an opponent fond of murdering his adversaries. And let’s not forget duBois herself, a young writer who began at age 25 to pen this, her first novel, which spanned 30 years and two continents; dealt in-depth with the biological vagaries of Huntington’s disease, the intricacies of world class chess matches, and the tangled politics of contemporary Russia; and charted two intertwining narratives written in toggled first and third-person perspectives. Courageous or foolish, indeed. The proof is though, as they say, in the pudding, and this here pudding tastes mighty good, so let’s call duBois the literary hero du jour because, my god, people: just read the book. Jennifer duBois studied philosophy and political science at Tufts University as an undergrad and went on to earn an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After completing a Stegner Fellowship in fiction, she served as the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies at Stanford University. You can find more of her work in The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, and Narrative, just to name a few. DuBois was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program and was recently a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Hemingway Award. She conversed via email with fiction editor Rachel Yoder while vacationing in Europe with her husband.
Rachel Yoder, Wag’s Revue: This is your first novel. Can you talk about how you approached writing it? Were there other first novels that you were inspired by?