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As a dedicated Francophile and a French resident, I jumped at the chance to conduct an interview with Joanne and Gerry Dryansky. They’ve successfully launched their co-written novel, Satan Lake, at Actes Sud in France. It was the ideal opportunity to know more about them in addition to their writing and learn more about what keeps them in Paris.
KF: You say that you’ve been living in France for most of your mature lives. What’s the matter, you don’t like America? What did you run away from?
J&G: We love America. If it weren’t for our forefathers’ immigrating to America, we both would have wound up either dead or alive in some place in Eastern Europe, a realm noted for great soul and even greater barbarism. We love the optimism and the perseverance of Americans You know that song “I did it my way” that Paul Anka, Canadian-born, and Frank Sinatra made great? It came from a French song called “Comme d’habitude”, i.e., as usual. You see the difference? Just listen to whomever sings “Comme d’habitude”. It puts you to sleep. The French idea of not striving corresponds to the accent-less syllables of the language.
KF: What’s so great about France?
J&G: Maybe we’re aesthetes, but we feel this thing viscerally and it affects our happiness: You could theorize that America has been such a wonderfully creative place for popular music because people’s lives are in other ways very sensually deprived. Beautiful landscape, but with a few exceptions, a boring presence of what man builds on it, cities with a lot of third-world-ish ugliness, good food a rarity…. Making as much money as possible has been the decider about what America has come to look like and taste like. In Europe, and in France in particular, you have an environment of things created first of all with the intention of their being what they can be at their most appealing. This, of course, has been changing rapidly. To get to the rocky shores and granite villages of Brittany, you pass through strips of road that rival Peoria.
KF: What about your books? FATIMA’S GOOD FORTUNE, which Jean-Jacques Beineix is making into a movie, is set in France. SATAN LAKE takes place in a small town in New York State. What do you know about small towns in New York State? William Faulkner once said that you should nurture your writing with your ties to places you know well.
J&G: Well, we know France rather well now. Someone whose opinion is quite sophisticated once told us, on reading Fatima: “You’re French!” We’ve been around small-town America. We’ve enormous respect for what Faulkner said, but there are different kinds of fiction. We think we can compress and distill reality and give it back a version of its truths that’s more touching, more compelling than what’s “d’habitude”. The mini-calamities of the middle class in middle America escape our interest.
KF: What is Actes Sud?
J&G: When Fatima, which was republished around the world, tanked at Miramax Books in the States when the house was in terminal illness and the book wasn’t even sent to Kirkus, we were left with trying to publish a second novel in America after the first one did not do well there. Our former publisher, who’d jumped ship at Miramax, wrote us from his new house about how much he loved SATAN LAKE, but, you know….
So Joanne sent an e-mail to Françoise Nyssen, head of Actes Sud, daughter of the novelist who founded it, and she asked to read SATAN LAKE, and Actes Sud loved it. These people discovered Paul Auster when no one in America wanted his fiction. They were the first non-Swedish publishers of Stieg Larsson’s MILLENIUM. They have more Nobel prizewinners and literary greats on their list than any other house in the world. We tip our hats to the Nyssens and to Marie-Catherine Vacher, their brilliant and enthusiastic English-language editor.
KF: What’s SATAN LAKE about?
J&G: About two kids on the cusp of puberty trying to straighten out their lives twisted by the misdeeds of their elders, in a town Norman Rockwell by day and Edward Hopper by night. It’s about abuse and murder and redemption….
KF: And if you don’t read French?
J&G: SATAN LAKE is out in English and available at Amazon Canada. Actes Sud got Kim McArthur, a very astute and ebullient woman who runs on enthusiasm, to take on the English Canadian rights. She doesn’t have to answer to the conglomerates that have taken over publishing in the States. It’s her house: McArthur and Co. She is also publishing the sequel to FATIMA’S GOOD FORTUNE, called FORTUNE’S SECOND WINK, out on November 15th.
KF: Do you have a website? And wait a minute—if you think you know France so well, can you tell us where you like to eat and travel?
J&G: Thank you, Karen, we do: it’s jandgdryansky.com. As for what we like:
To visit in France? Every part of this country has something to take your breath away. The German adage describes the height of existence as “living like God himself in France”. Not bad. We like, in particular, Normandy, Auvergne and the Basque Country. Restaurants? We don’t attend the culinary performances, but like to eat food with a pedigree, at say Chez Josephine, or yes, Allard, at lunchtime when it’s not crowded with tourists, or at one of the last modest and devoted neighborhood places, Le Languedoc. For New Year’s, the anniversary of our first date, we escape the merry makers and go to a manor in Brittany called Talhouët, where a charming man with excellent manners, nice dogs and a great eye for antiques sold his lumber business to create a beautiful place serving fine food.
After Gerry wrote about it long ago, it has become well known.
KF: Thank you Joanne and Gerry. Being with you is always a pleasure.
Read the Review of Satan Lake.
Joanne and Gerry Dryansky’s novel, Fatima’s Good Fortune, which was published in the States by Miramax Books, throughout Europe and in Asia, is a quirky, modern fairy tale with a keen take on Paris life.