Larry Watson & Dwight Allen at the Wisconsin Book Festival

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Larry Watson at the Wisconsin Book Festival 10/19/11.

Opening night of the 10th annual Wisconsin Book Festival featured a lively reading/Q&A with Milwaukee-based novelist Larry Watson (Montana 1948, American Boy) and Madison novelist and short story writer Dwight Allen (The Green Suit, The Typewriter Satyr) at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Novelist Mary Gordon, who was scheduled to join them, had to cancel due to an airline delay, although it was promised that she’d be at the festival for a reading the following evening. Watson read from his just-released American Boy (Milkweed Editions), a coming-of-age novel set in fictional Willow Falls, Minnesota in 1962. The title might suggest a Young Adult novel, but American Boy isn’t so easily categorized. It’s suffused with the volatile sexual tension and barely suppressed violence that mark Watson’s best work. (I’ll be reviewing the novel in an upcoming issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas.) [Update 1/31/12: my review of American Boy is now posted on the Wisconsin Academy website.]

Dwight Allen at the Wisconsin Book Festival 10/19/11

Dwight Allen read the opening pages of his mordantly funny short story “Succor” from The Green Suit, a collection first published in 2000 and just reissued, with an added story, from the University of Wisconsin Press. “Succor” concerns an unlikely friendship that develops between Allen’s recurring character, Peter Sackrider (whose perfect name manages to suggest both a lewd euphemism and the mopey bemusement with which Sackrider views the world), and a disreputable force-of-nature named Larry Hale, who may or may not have stolen a necklace belonging to Sackrider’s wife. Props to Allen for mentioning during the Q&A that he recently read and enjoyed David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel, The Pale King. He also candidly admitted an inability to get beyond the first three-hundred pages of Wallace’s woolly-mammoth masterpiece, Infinite Jest, a novel which, Allen felt, exemplified “the limitations of brilliance.”

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