It’s all about the narrative

Carol Edgarian is an author, editor and literary magazine founder. She burst onto the scene with debut novel Rise The Euphrates in 1994 and went on to co-found the influential online literary magazine, Narrative, which publishes new fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays and features from established and talented new writers.

“[I am] delighted and proud to be part of something much larger than we’d ever imagined. We started in 2003 with the goal of providing the best in story-telling online to readers everywhere free of charge. It was important to our mission to be on the cutting edge of technology while embracing classic literary values. And to support writers by paying them well.

“We started [with a] staff of two, no money, six stories-by Tobias Wolff, Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Smiley and three exciting new writers- and a readership of 1,200. Today we have a staff of over 120, 100 of whom are volunteers, we publish over 300 artists each year – poets, novelists, essayists, etc. – and our subscriber base exceeds 100,000 with over 1.5 million page views each month. As a non-profit, we still have no money, so that’s always the work at hand as well.

“There have been a whole lot of talented folks working tirelessly to grow Narrative so that today it’s the premier platform for story-telling, a complete modern library for readers on the go.”

Edgarian’s latest novel is Three Stages of Amazement, published by Scribner. The author appears at Books & Books at 7pm Tuesday, 29 March, for a reading and signing session.

The novel is set around the time of the stock market crash and deals with its aftermath and the effects on one particular family. But what inspired it?

“Oh, so many things. For example, a woman I know who’s been married five times once said to me, ‘Listen, a hundred years ago it was a whole lot easier to promise ‘till death do you part because back then everyone died in their 40s.’ Well, the line made me laugh, but it also got me thinking… about how much longer people are living today yet our expectations regarding romantic love, fidelity, parenthood, friendship haven’t adapted. Or have they? I wanted to think about the marriages I saw around me. Young, old; certain, struggling. To go behind doors where, of course, no outsider is invited.”

The long middle

While most love stories chart the early stages or cataclysmic end, there is also a “long middle”, says Edgarian.

“Despite every fine desire to connect, partners miss; they screw up, give up, put up; they abandon themselves and each other. And yet they keep coming back. They keep coming back! What kind of craziness is that? It interests me.

“Related to that, of course, are the external pressures of life, specifically money, ambition and the view we have of immigrants today versus when this country started – those subjects interest me greatly.

“Finally, I wanted to write about this moment in time, as America, post-great recession, has been stripped of its persona. America having lost its face. If we’re no longer the land of manifest destiny, of limitless resources, capital, potential, what are we? Where are we? 2009 was a pivotal moment in time worth capturing. Here [in the novel] we have Lena and Charlie, arriving at middle age, weathering their own hard knocks, at the same time that America hits the skids – that synchronicity, that frightening imbalance is where the novel begins. Lena’s question – Where is the grace? – seems particularly relevant to me.”

Part of literature’s job – if indeed, it has one – is to ask questions, if not resolve them; to hold a mirror to the world and, perhaps, to the reader too. And therein is revealed a truth that by its nature also holds a dignity and perhaps – whisper it – a form of grace.