introducing readers to writers since 1995

April 18, 2005

Guest Author: Marc Estrin

by Ron Hogan

estrin.jpgMarc Estrin will be reading at the Greenwich Village Barnes & Noble tonight, so if this brief note about the origins of his latest novel, The Education of Arnold Hitler, gets you curious, and you live in New York City, you can check him out for yourself. The book is published by Unbridled Books, which will also be bringing his first novel, Insect Dreams, back out in trade paperback this fall.

"The Education of Arnold Hitler is a great example of how a novel can grow unexpectedly from a stupid question you ask your wife. We were driving up to Bread & Puppet one day, and from nowhere, I turned to Donna and asked her 'Wouldn't it be funny if your name were Arnold Hitler?' 'Yes,' she said, and we continued listening to 'Benito Cereno' on tape.  At that point, I was thinking Arnold Stang--a small, whiny guy with an irritating nasal stupidity. And look what happened. Never can tell.

"Maybe it was Melville-at-the-birth, but Billy Budd soon signed on as a leitmotif, the inevitable drawing down of dark by light. So Arnold had to be "a handsome sailor," had to meet his evil Claggarts--and he does. His adventures, physical and spiritual, flow from those encounters. Another literary nudge here: the book originally had a terrible ending--Arnold torched to death by neo-Nazis for not living up to his name.  But I'd been indulging in a Dickens orgy for the past year (I never read him before!), and felt...chastized, I guess, by his generosity toward his characters and story, his embrace of happy endings in even the unhappiest of tales. So I thought I'd try a happy-maybe ending instead of the awful one I'd imagined. It was no more or less plausible, I learned more about the characters. and it was a hell of a lot more fun to write. Plus the reader is spared a second hero in a row to go up in flames."

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