Castle Freeman is the award winning author of the novel Go With Me. It is soon to be released as a major motion picture starring Anthony Hopkins and Julia Stiles. His latest novel has recently been published. Castle met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and the importance of location in his writing.
My new novel is THE DEVIL IN THE VALLEY. It’s a retelling of the story of Faust, set not in medieval Germany but in a small rural community in the New England hinterlands in the present day. Readers of Faust’s most familiar English version, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus” (1604) know that in fact the play is not tragical at all, but is played mainly for humor. My story is in the same spirit. A flawed hero makes a bargain with the devil (a special, slick, corporate kind of devil) in which he gets supernatural powers—powers which he uses not to explore the infinite but more modestly, to benefit the ordinary people of his home. Nevertheless, at the end of the story, the hero, like Faust, must keep his contract and surrender his soul. Whether he succumbs to damnation or beats the devil, and with what assistance, the reader will learn.
What is the importance of location to you?
It would be hard to overstate the importance of location to me, in writing and in living, both. I have lived my whole adult life in the state of Vermont, that is, in the distant, largely forested countryside of northern New England. The area has a very distinctive history, geography, and culture and a very particular kind of rural character or identity in the US. I’m not sure what or where in the UK corresponds: possibly Scotland or Wales.
In most of the writing I have done, especially the fiction writing, I have been concerned to explore and understand this region and its people, not so much by straight description or documentary but more by suggestion and implication. The idea has been to give the reader a vivid and memorable idea of what it’s like to live and work here, without descending to literary calendar art. So my business has been more with attitudes, customs, prejudices, affections, and humor, and less with landscape and scenery—though I hope there is a sense of those in my writings about my home, as well.
Who are your literary influences?
I claim literary descent from the Great American Low-Highbrow line of Twain and Faulkner, as it takes a bend to the right (or is it to the left?) and flanks the Noir of more recent generations via Raymond Chandler and especially George V. Higgins. This line is in contrast to the Great American High-Highbrow tradition of Hawthorne, Poe, Henry James, and the post-avant garde Difficult crowd of metafictionists and others. They have never been my favorites, though I do like a bit of complication, and, especially, a bit of humor.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
I have just finished a new new novel, a kind of sequel or companion piece to my novel ALL THAT I HAVE, published there by Duckworth in 2010. Provisional title: OLD NUMBER FIVE (c.f., the Fifth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother, etc.). My agent will soon begin the process of seeking a publisher. Beyond that, I have a short story coming out this year in a literary magazine published in Alaska, and I will be working on other stories, possibly connected with it. I try to stay busy. As my mother used to say, it keeps me off the streets and out of the poolrooms.
Thank you Castle for a great interview.
Booklist (USA) describes The Devil in the Valley as “Full of laconic dialogue and waggish asides on contemporary culture” and “a thoroughly enjoyable read from the ever-inventive Freeman.”
Castle is the author of six other novels, including All That I Have and Go With Me, which inspired a film that recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival starring and produced by Anthony Hopkins…Read more here and on IMDb.