Eric Lundgren is the ideal writer to interview about place–first off, his soon-to-be-released, amazing first novel The Facades is all about it, and second of all, because I see him everywhere, all over town. He pops up the way memory does. Like, hey, where did that come from? I’ll be downtown looking at the quarters at the bottom of a fountain and wondering why people don’t just throw pennies (you get one wish, no matter what the value of the coin happens to be, right?) and I’ll look up and there’s Eric Lundgren, across the park. Or I’ll be driving along Kingshighway, stuck behind some city utility truck that reeks of tar, and I’ll see Eric Lundgren walking along the road. I don’t even think there’s a sidewalk there! But in a flash it’s too late for me to shout out, offer him a ride. And, you know, it’s really hard to turn around right there. Anyway, the point is as far as I know Eric Lundgren is everywhere. I have a feeling the rest of you are going to feel that way soon. Keep your eyes open.
Eric Lundgren – Essay in Response to Interview Questions
I was born in Cleveland in 1977. I lived there for only six months and have never been back, except once passing through it on an Amtrak train. I can’t decide if I want to visit or not. Sometimes I prefer my own delusions about places. According to my parents, I also joined them in the late seventies for a backpacking trip across the Alps. In the pictures I appear as a spectral presence and barely formed being. That trip still represents my longest stay in Europe, although I have returned to spend time in the U.K., Germany, and France. My knowledge of Europe comes mostly from its fiction, although my parents are very well-traveled and my father taught high school German, so we hosted guys named Horst, Gerhard, and Klaus at the house when we were kids. I think a dream of Europe hangs over my otherwise very American work.
Naming the Midwestern city in my first novel after Trude, from Calvino’s Invisible Cities, felt like a provocative gesture when I started the book, eight years ago. The idea of a continuous city where everything is familiar and only the name of the airport changes, I took this to be a widespread coastal prejudice about the Midwest. The challenge would be to render my Midwestern Trude as a locale of real intrigue, sadness, and fascination. In trying to achieve this, I ended up conflating many of my own Midwestern experiences, many of them taking place in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I grew up, many others drawn from St. Louis, where I’ve been living while writing the book. So maybe I ended up undercutting my own point and saying that all Midwestern experiences are on the same continuum—I’m not sure.
One of my ambitions is to write about the Midwest not in a gently humorous mode, a la Garrison Keillor, or as a theatre for quietly snuffed realist dreams, but in a sort of estranged, almost grotesque mode, the way Flannery O’Connor wrote about the South, or the way Thomas Bernhard wrote about Austria. This could be a deeply bad idea. I find the region on the whole quite weird, including the widely held belief of its inhabitants that it’s a second-class place and not really worth discussing in detail.
So yeah, the play of light and shadow on wind-flattened cornfields, emptied Main Streets, agricultural conglomerates, methamphetamines, taciturn people in sweatshirts, prairie dogs, the crickets at night, abandoned movie palaces, Super Walmarts, the schizophrenia of the weather – these are all elements of the region that feed my imagination.
A correspondent for Al Jazeera wrote a column arguing that all American cities would come to resemble St. Louis in the 21st century. That may be—in any case, you do see staggering inequities of wealth displayed here. Total wealth and total poverty coexisting within a few city blocks of each other. We have all the urban problems. You’re acutely aware of living in the shell of an older, greater city. But sometimes I see a building and I’m not sure if it’s in the process of demolition or half-built – going down or up. That sense of ambiguity draws a lot of creative people here. There is a sense that you can do something.
The Arch, unlike many other visual clichés I’ve encountered, gathers depth and magnificence the longer you live beside it, seeing it from different angles and in different light. I remember returning to the city in a rainstorm once and watching it almost hover out of a cloud. In 1965, William S. Burroughs wrote that it looked like the only landmark to survive an apocalyptic event, and I was pleased to see that this was the premise of a recent SciFi network series. Despite what an icon it has become, there is a quiet reverence for the Arch here. Likewise, my time in this city has been rich, surprising, multifaceted.
About the Author
Eric Lundgren was born in Cleveland, grew up in Minneapolis, studied in Portland and St. Louis, and would like to be in Berlin this summer. His first novel, The Facades, is published by The Overlook Press in September.