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GR native Darrin Doyle to appear in GVSU Writers Series

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The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo is Darrin Doyle's recently published novel.

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo is Darrin Doyle's recently published novel. /

Local Author Darrin Doyle will be reading from his recently published novel "The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo" tonight at 7:00 pm at GVSU University Club, DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton, Pew Grand Rapids Campus. 

Doyle graduated from Western Michigan University with an MFA (1999), and received a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati in comparative literature (2006). Doyle currently teaches at Central Michigan University, where he is an assistant professor. He has had short stories published in "Puerto del Sol," "The Long Story," "Cottonwood," "Night Train," "Alaska Quarterly Review," "The Laurel Review," "H_NGM_N," "Harpur Palate," and other journals.

Below is a brief interview conducted with Doyle:

Steven Davison: You mention the book is inspired by the greed and consumerism that defines modern America and the bottomless hunger for true connections we long for, how do you this trend in things like Facebook or Twitter and the increasingly connected world we live in?

Darrin Doyle: Just to be clear, I never intended any message about greed and consumerism when I wrote the book.  But in looking at it after it was written, those themes were certainly there.  It was actually novelist Christine Schutt who told me she saw those issues in the story, and I agree.
The novel is set in the years 1972-1999, so social networking via the internet isn’t an actual component of the story.  However, what social networking has in common with the themes of my novel is the idea of celebrity.  What I mean is that all of these new forums – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, cell phones, Blackberry – anything that purports to connect us to others, are really driven by our basic human need to be recognized.   
Babies, for instance, love to play peek-a-boo.  Most people think the baby’s delight comes from seeing her mother reappear, but psychologists know that the real satisfaction for the baby comes from being seen.  She wants to know that she exists.  We want to know we exist, we matter, we are somebody.     
I’m not saying that famous people are driven by the desire to be seen, although that is certainly possible.  But I actually think famous people are created, over and over again, so that each of us, the common folk, can feel like we exist.  Let me explain.  Toward every celebrity, I either feel a. love, b. hatred or c. indifference.  But the fact is I get to determine the worth of each one of them, in my mind.  I have the power.  Anything I say about them, or think about them – positive, negative, or indifferent – gives me agency, gives me a way to feel, unconsciously, that I exist.
So in my novel, Audrey certainly could be motivated by the need for fame and attention.  Her family members, it’s true, have never been warm and intimate toward one another.  But nobody knows exactly what motivated Audrey.  The city of Kalamazoo, however, certainly appears to be motivated by the desire for fame – as they try to exploit the “Mall City Muncher” for all the fame she can garner.  They even attempt to structure the city’s identity around Audrey’s amazing feat, at least for a period of time, and this commoditization of Audrey definitely comes to reflect that notion of consumerism and greed.  
SD: Some of the most descriptive and insightful passages in the book are written about the nuns and the Catholic education you received in Grand Rapids.  Can you give a few words about growing up in GR and the influence that had on this book? 

DD: For starters, I want to assure people that the novel is fictional.  The characters in my book aren’t real people, nor are they based upon specific people. Flannery O’Connor says that a fiction writer needs to distort reality in order to get at the truth.  That’s what I attempt to do.
Having said that, I did spend my formative years (ages 9-18) in Grand Rapids, and I did attend Catholic school for all of those years.  The nuns who appear in my novel are exaggerated and vilified versions of the nuns I knew.  Sure, there are occasional nods to reality – I mean, some of the nuns who taught me did have very bad breath, and I later saw one of them eating an entire onion for lunch, and I did have to say 15 minutes of prayers after recess in the fourth grade.  But the other thing to remember is that the narrator, McKenna, is a bitter person reflecting on an unhappy life, and the nuns, in her mind, represent an invasive force that tried to demonize her sister.  Therefore, McKenna has very specific motivations for painting an unflattering portrait of the “penguins.”  
The issue of faith also looms large in the book.  Grandma Pencil becomes a devout Catholic, and this is at odds with Audrey and McKenna’s father – and McKenna herself finds herself in the middle of their feud.  McKenna, like me, is someone who has never been able to have faith in a higher power, and this is a struggle for her. 
SD: How has the book been received thus far?  

DD: Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the novel and called it “relentlessly inventive.”  They also said the characters are “irredeemably unlikeable,” which I guess they meant as a criticism.  This is odd to me, first because of course I like the characters (and other people seem to as well).  But mostly, I don’t know why likeability is necessary for enjoying a novel.  Most of my favorite books have unlikeable, flawed characters at their center – Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Wise Blood, A Confederacy of Dunces, anything by Dostoevsky.  So I try to see the “unlikeable” comment as a compliment.
I’ve gotten nice reviews from Hungry Brain (blog) and The Manhattan Mercury (a Kansas newspaper). It feels great to get a positive review, but overall, I have to tell myself that none of these reviews ultimately matter.  I wrote the book that I wanted to write, or needed to write, or whatever, and no matter what anybody says about it – good or bad – I wouldn’t have done it any differently.

SD:  What's next on the horizon?

DD: I’m always vacillating between going all-out bizarre or doing more conventional, realistic fiction.   I’m currently putting together a short-story collection that’s pretty surreal and strange, titled The Human Part. A lot of the stories have to do with body parts. I also have a new novel in the works, about a young woman who unwittingly finds herself as a contest on a reality show.  This one is pretty straightforward, meaning it’s stylistically more, I guess, unadventurous than some of the other stuff I’ve done.  But it’s still got a strong narrative voice – I’m shooting for something resembling the work of Lorrie Moore and Grace Paley.  Hopefully I get somewhere near the target. 

Below are links to other interviews with Mr. Doyle:

Mr. Doyles Blog

Also appearing will be Author Jeffrey Bean.  The readings are open to the public with free admission. For more information, contact Austin Bunn in the Department of Writing at (616) 331-3601, or [email protected].

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