Categorized | Bloom_Dan, Books & Poetry

In time of future disaster, there still will be humor

By Dan Bloom
Dan Bloom

Dan Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, TAIWAN –Aaron Thier is a 30-something writer born and bred in western Massachusetts, and his latest novel Mr. Eternity has just been published by Bloomsbury in New York. The time-travelling novel is both a comic novel and very serious novel at the same time, and it has been characterized already by readers as literary fiction, sci-fi, apocalyptic dystopian, fantasy and cli-fi. And a comic novel, as well.

In a recent email interview, we were lucky enough to find Thier at home and he graciously took the time to answer some of our questions from overseas. In his early 30s, Thier did his undergraduate work at Yale, majoring in literature (Class of 2006) and later completed a Creative Writing MFA at the University of Florida in 2012.
He was asked why his new novel has a strong climate-change theme, and how that came to be in this Anthropocene Age of novelists and screenwriters probing various climate future scenarios.
“I’m not as plugged-in as I might be, but I can say that it was my perception, while writing Mr. Eternity,  that no one was addressing these issues in a way that was satisfying to me” Thier said. “I could be wrong about this. I tend to read pretty widely, lots of things in translation, and I’m not always as aware as I might be of what’s going on in contemporary American literature. In any case, [climate change is] a tough subject. Hard to get the science straightened out. Hard to make sense of the byzantine policy problems, too. When I hear politicians deny the reality of climate change, I’m so angry that I can’t think, and that doesn’t make for good literature. Unless you
police yourself very carefully, strong personal feelings almost always disturb the integrity of the fiction. In the end, I don’t think literature handles politics very well, which is why I wrote instead about the tactile reality of a particularly catastrophic climate change scenario.”
How to categorize his new novel?
A novel is good enough for me,” Thier said. “It belongs to that most nebulous of categories, ‘Literary Fiction,’ which essentially just means fiction about what it feels like to be a human being.”
In an earlier interview with a literary critic in Florida, Thier said that for some reason, a personal reason, he cannot bring himself to publish a new novel without having already written and completed his next novel already. When asked why this was so, he explained: “It’s just that I anticipate losing my mind when a book comes out. I get
wrapped up in how it’s selling or who’s reviewing it, and those concerns are not compatible with my writing life. I need to be thinking about the thing I’m working on and nothing else.”
And so, yes, Thier has already written and completed his next novel, although he’s keeping the title under wraps for now. When asked what the new book is about, he was happy to describe it in brief.
“It’s about a young couple who are chased across America by Yahweh, the Old Testament god,” he said. “The joke is that they are agnostic secular humanists, so the existence of such a god is a test of their faith. How can we live a just life if God exists? If the god that exists is the god of the Old Testament, I mean, who’s anything but
benevolent.”
When this blogger asked if the ”cli-fi” literary term could be applied to Mr Eternity, Thier said if any reviewers wanted to use that term, it was fine with him.
“Anything we can do to get people to pay more attention!” he said. “I like it, yes.”
In an earlier interview with Andrew Donovan in Florida, Thier was asked: ”Why have Old Dan end up in Key West, of all places?”
Thier replied: ”Because the Keys are fragile — in 200 years, they won’t exist — and the book is obsessed with disappearing things.”
Later in the same interview, Thier said of the Florida Keys: ”Well, I think of the Keys again. The issue for me is not so much that they’ll disappear as that it will be like they never existed, because no one will be left to remember them.”
Since framing the issue of climate change that way, in that some things might disappear from the face of the Earth forever and there will be nobody left to remember them, a concept that resonated deeply with this blogger, I asked Thier where that idea come to him from. And as usual, he had a ready answer.
“I was thinking about what the inundation of a coastal community would really mean,” he explained. “To us, it’s a disaster we dread — part of the nightmare future. But once it has already happened, it will be part of the past. It’s easy to forget that. It will be an event that exists in memory, in history books, which is to say it’ll be half-imaginary and increasingly subject to distortion. In a few centuries, no one will remember Key West. They’ll remember that there was once a place called Key West. An important difference. A terrifying thought.”
When asked if he was a pessimist or an optimist in regard to possible climate change outcomes in the future, Thier said: “I’m a pessimist in the sense that I don’t think we’ll get it together to avoid a catastrophic outcome. In many important ways we’ve already missed the boat by a long way.”
However, he added: “But I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe in human resourcefulness. I don’t think this represents a threat to human existence, only a threat to human civilization as it’s currently configured. People will eke out a living somehow in a brutalized world. There will probably be fewer of us, maybe way fewer.”
The title — Mr Eternity — is an intriguing one, and when asked when and where and how it came to him, he again had a ready answer: “I was wandering around in the ice and snow during the very cold winter of 2013-14 and it popped into my head. I’d already written the book; I don’t usually have a title in mind when I’m writing. I like it because it communicates the essential playfulness of the main character.”

“I’m anxious for people to understand that it’s a funny book, a joyful book,” he said. “It is very much not austere dystopian fiction. A heartwarming book about climate change! Not that it minimizes the
scale of the disaster.”
 Thier said that he prefers to write his novels (and sign publishing contracts for them) as stand-alone novels.
“I don’t think I’d feel comfortable signing a multiple-book deal, even if that were an option. I’d feel superstitious about it,” he said.
Thier’s surname has an interesting backstory, and when asked about it, he responded:  “Thier is my birth name. My parents decided that Thier was more interesting than Murphy [his father Peter Murphy is an English professor at Williams College] so the three children all have my mom’s name. This hasn’t produced as much confusion as you might think. People seem charmed by the matriarchal orientation.”
In addition, in connection with his mother’s surname, a former president of Brandeis University in the early 1990s was her father, Aaron Thier’s grandfather, Dr Samuel Thier, a medical doctor.
“I wish I knew more about where the Thier name came from,” Thier told us. “I know that the original Samuel Thier, my great-great-grandfather, was an actor in the Yiddish theater in Warsaw, Poland, but I don’t know much else.”
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Bloom, based in Taiwan, is a freelance writer and an inveterate websurfer.  He may be contacted via [email protected] .  Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

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