And in The Soul Thief, it was a different sort of issue. Years ago, I had a friend that went around saying that he was Charles Baxter and had written what I had written. He gave readings as Charles Baxter. I didn’t know he was doing this, of course. We were still friends and I was sending him work in the mail because he was such a good commentator. And I thought, “Now, what is it like for him to think that he’s me?” So when I was thinking of the whole business of identity theft, of control theft, I thought, “Well, what if you had a first-person narration that’s actually not narrated by that person but by somebody else, another character in a story?” These techniques arose out of a sort of narrative necessity, not because I wanted to be experimental but because I couldn’t figure out any other way to do it.
SL: That’s what I really liked about it. While Lost in the Funhouse is fun to read, I don’t exactly know what it’s doing other than being conscious of itself.
CB: Yeah. You know Barth was on the faculty at the State University of New York at Buffalo when I was there. And he was replaced by Don Barthelme. So that stuff was very much in the air when I was in my twenties. I admire both of those guys. Lost in the Funhouse has a palpable hostility to the reader, which I don’t have. That’s a big difference between Barth and me. I just don’t feel that way.
SL: A key difference I see is: I care about your characters, about Nathaniel and Coolberg, and Chloé and Oscar. But I recently read The Recognitions and, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t know any of the characters. It seemed they stood for something.
CB: Yeah. I like Wyatt in that book [The Recognitions]. You know, you sort of watch him disintegrating as a personality. It’s kind of an amazing book, but I could never be that kind of writer. So I just wouldn’t even try.