Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Ed Taylor’s fiction piece, Lake Effect
John: There is such a compelling sense of place here—a crumbling mental hospital in a dying Rust Belt city. When writing this story, which came first, the setting or the characters?
Ed: Really it was the hospital, which is real and is at least partly a National Historic Landmark in Buffalo NY. Its historic parts were designed by H H Richardson, who also designed the former Post Office Pavilion in Wash DC that is now a Trump hotel.
The place itself is a nice metaphor/symbol of the arc of Buffalo, from Chicago of the East (4th biggest city in the country in 1901) to a Rust Belt case study that’s taken a long time to figure out what it will be next. But—it is figuring that out, I think.
I am not from Buffalo (am from North Carolina) so being a relative newcomer here puts me in that classically valuable position of being able to see the place a little differently than those who grew up here.
It’s an interesting point you make about the eye of the outsider or newcomer affording a different perspective. Do you also notice a difference in the way you write about places that you are more familiar with? North Carolina, for instance?
Yeah, FWIW, I do look at NC differently—but I think that’s a component of developing an artistic practice and applying that kind of awareness to whatever’s around you, even if it’s stuff you’ve seen a million times or grown up with. I think everyone who wakes up enough to be fully present and not on autopilot, whether they’re an artist or not, sees everything differently, or more clearly, or more objectively.
Immigrants are a theme in this story, offering both a sense of threat and salvation. Is there a way to make peace with our fear of the Other? Even Brian’s more-successful siblings seem to be leading lives of disappointment. Is the American Dream dead, and if so, what can we replace it with?
American dream? Ha—don’t get me started 😉 Let’s just say that I agree with Michael Moore’s thesis in the movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” that we don’t have democracy here, we have capitalism—of a particularly socially and economically destructive, hypocritical, Hobbesian, American variety, and one that has basically sealed off the traditional forms of social and economic mobility for anyone who’s not upper middle class or higher on the socioeconomic scale. I’ll stop now… 😉
I agree that social mobility has become increasingly difficult, something that a city like Buffalo abundantly attests to. Would it be fair to say that Brian, whether he realizes it or not, is searching for something outside of the traditional American modes? And what might that look like for him?
Brian is maybe not wedded to, or expecting, the conventional things, maybe in terms of “career,” as the world of work in America has changed so radically in the last I don’t know 20 years or so—whether the change is correlated with or caused by the rise of the digital world or not, I’m not sure we know yet. Certainly American labor and economy have changed radically.
So anyway, the future for him won’t be as a rent-a-cop, but beyond that, I don’t know. Only he knows 😉
Have you ever eaten seagull?
Answering literally: nope—don’t eat things with beaks or lips (I do eat fish). I’d guess it’d be oily and salty—might be tasty for people used to eating marine mammals. Maybe some hot chef will get it on a tasting menu, in a malt liquor and lingonberry froth with a paired cocktail.
In Googling you, I stumbled on the work of Puritan poet Edward Taylor. Any relation?
Edward Taylor the New England Puritan is no relation that I know of (I’ve been asked before). I am pure Scotch-Irish white trash from the Southern US Piedmont and Appalachians. My father, among other things, was a professional bluegrass musician.