5 Questions with Greg Jackson, Author of Prodigals

prodigals coverCity Lights is proud to welcome author Greg Jackson to our bookstore on Thursday, March 10, 2016. He’ll be reading from his new book, Prodigals: Stories, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Greg answered a specially tailored version of our 5 questions–his answers are below.

Event: Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133

About Prodigals: “People are bullets, fired,” the narrator declares in one of the desperate, eerie stories that make up Greg Jackson’s Prodigals. He’s fleeing New York, with a woman who may be his therapist, as a storm bears down. Self-knowledge here is no safeguard against self-sabotage. A banker sees his artistic ambitions laid bare when he comes under the influence of two strange sisters. A midlife divorcée escapes to her seaside cottage only to find a girl living in it. A journalist is either the guest or the captive of a former tennis star at his country mansion in the Auvergne.

Jackson’s sharp debut drills into the spiritual longing of today’s privileged elite. Adrift in lives of trumpeted possibility and hidden limitation, in thrall to secondhand notions of success, the flawed, sympathetic, struggling characters in these stories seek refuge from meaninglessness in love, art, drugs, and sex. Unflinching, funny, and profound, Prodigals maps the degradation of contemporary life with unusual insight and passion–from the obsession with celebrity, to the psychological debts of privilege, to the impotence of violence, to the loss of grand narratives.

About Greg Jackson: Greg Jackson grew up in Boston and coastal Maine. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Granta. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Virginia and has been a Fiction Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center and a resident at the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A winner of the Balch and Henfield prizes, he was a finalist for the 2014 National Magazine Award in Fiction. Prodigals is his first book.

g. jakcsonCity Lights: How would you describe someone who is a “prodigal”? What qualities do they possess?

Greg Jackson: A prodigal is undeceived—someone who understands the contingency of her life enough to disdain the myth of identity, the consequence of the life she was born into enough to disdain her own privilege, the mediocrity of that privilege enough to disdain the guilt that comes with it, and the pointlessness of conventions enough to flout them. She loathes and needs people in equal part. Her sense of the absurd extends to her very existence. But she isn’t a cynic. The longing in her life is spiritual, and she is above all looking for something that can justify her conviction that underneath everything life has meaning.

Needless to say, prodigals make the very best friends.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it sound like?

The second Tindersticks album, the one that begins with “El Diablo en el Ojo”? The story in “My Sister” would fit right in Prodigals, and I’m often upset that I didn’t write it.

CL: What are you reading at the moment?

GJ: War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue,
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin,
Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age by Sven Birkerts,
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi,
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler,
The Sellout by Paul Beatty,
Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason,
The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, and
The Names by Don DeLillo

And then, because I’m writing an essay on her work and one can’t read her often enough, all things Grace Paley: fiction, nonfiction, poetry.

CL: If you could write the antithesis of the great American novel, what would the blurb for it read like?

GJ: “The ambitions of this novel are so modest that at times I wondered whether Jackson weren’t raised during a famine or some other historical calamity. The characters often take twenty-five pages to commit to one declarative statement. Conversation is qualified to the point of meaninglessness, and any can-do spirit here is scuttled by an inanition that would make Beckett break out in hives. Never has the plot of an 800-page novel been easier to summarize in a sentence fragment, and I am positive that there has never been a novel as concerned with the actuarial intricacies of the social-welfare state.”

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and yes, no wifi access.) 

GJ: I already pretty much live as though stranded on a desert island, so this is easy: books, pens, and fine-ruled yellow legal pads. If I am being greedy, I’d ask for an armchair and the occasional visit from a friend.


Join us on Thursday, March 10. Greg Jackson reads from his new story collection, Prodigals. For more about Greg, check this Q&A at the Portland Press-Herald. For more events at City Lights this month, go to our complete events calendar.

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