I met Nick Mamatas in 1999 when he edited my first book, Saving Private Power. Nick was (and is) brutally honest and opinionated. He also wields his wit like a weapon and is just about the smartest guy I know. Author of six books (including two novels) and contributor to several more, Mamatas is an original and creative writer with palpable subtlety, nuance, and social conscience. His latest novel, Under My Roof (Soft Skull), is a suburban fable about a family that declares independence thanks to a homemade nuclear device stored inside a garden gnome. Having just finished reading this remarkable book, I decided to ask Nick a few questions via e-mail.
Mickey Z.: How would you feel if I said your new book reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut...and I meant that as a major compliment?
Nick Mamatas: That would feel great. Vonnegut is definitely an influence. I was handed Slapstick by an indulgent uncle at a young age - I was probably eight years-old - never looked back. Lots of kids read science fiction, of course, but they generally start with Asimov or Andre Norton or somesuch. My "skipping ahead" really did help define my aesthetic.
MZ: The roof your protagonist is living under just happens to be located on suburban Long Island. You misspent your youth there, right?
NM: Some of it. We traveled back and forth between Brooklyn and Suffolk County, and then my father built a home there. We actually moved in when I was a junior in high school, into the basement which was then just four walls and a dirt floor. I built my own room over the next couple of years.
MZ: Any repressed lawn gnome memories to share (radioactive or otherwise)?
NM: We never had a lawn gnome, but since finishing the book I have to say that I've started seeing gnomes EVERYWHERE. I think they're making a comeback as a kitschy cultural signifier of something or other.
MZ: After Fight Club came out, there were plenty of stories about men meeting furtively to bash each other's faces. Do you think "Under My Roof" will spawn micro-states from sea to shining sea?
NM: I doubt it. It was the Fight Club movie, not the book, after all, that sparked the sparring contests. Under My Roof isn't headed for Hollywood any time soon, though at least one editor who ultimately rejected the book suggested that we make it more like a movie. "Instead of a nuclear bomb," she said, "why can't the kid have a girlfriend, like in 'Napoleon Dynamite'."
MZ: Prince Herbert of Weinbergia may not have a girlfriend but he can read minds. Is that a superpower you'd like to possess?
NM: Absolutely, especially given the scope of Herbie's power in the book,
which includes the ability to read minds regardless of distance. Well,
I suppose if I had to choose, I'd prefer teleportation, but telepathy
is a close second.
MZ: This book skewers much of what passes for normal these days: consumerism, military propaganda, reality TV, junk food, and so on. If you hate America so much, why don't you go live in Russia?
NM: What, Russia doesn't have consumerism, military propaganda, reality TV, or junk food? If one dislikes imperialism, the best place to live is in the US, after all, as on can work to apply political pressure better within the country's borders than without. Of course, the book, as it deals with the foundation of microstates that ultimately recapitulate the problems of the US, shows that the political question isn't just a matter of individual lifestyle, or of choosing one nation over another. We're in a world system, after all.
MZ: If you had your very own micro-state, what would it be called?
NM: The People's Republic of Me, and my life wouldn't change a bit, except
I wouldn't have to pay a ridiculous percentage of my low freelance
income in taxes.
To order Under My Roof, please visit: http://www.mamatas.com
Nick Mamatas' Journal: http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.