Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Recognizing Something Human: Part Two of Andrew F. Sullivan in Conversation

Share |

Yesterday I posted the beginnings of my G-Chat conversation with Andrew F. Sullivan. We focused the discussion on the characters and worldview of his first novel, WASTE. Our conversation continues below.


JT: Do you think you'll ever write a character that is a "good" person? Do you believe in "good" people?


AS: Ha, yeah I do. And I think I have in some of my short stories. But I also think "good" people come as much from circumstance as anything else - a certain level of comfort protects us from having to make some of the more desperate choices that exist out there. I am also more interested in kind people over good people. Kindness is in short supply, but there are people who still embody it out there. And that doesn't mean they are "nice" people - it means they are generous with their time and spirit. I also think a desire to be a "good" person or a belief that you are one doesn't make it so. It comes out in how you live your life, the actions you take.


JT: Yeah, WASTE definitely shows you that the actions are what matters, what makes a person. Not only what you do, but also what is done to you.


AS: Yeah, exactly. You're not 100% control of your destiny, others can take pieces of you. They can bend you, break you. It's not all pre-ordained by you.


JT: Yeah that's really interesting. Especially because I think, you mentioned fate before, and people who usually don't believe in fate think that, "Okay, your choices and what you make of your life is defined by you, you make your own purpose and destiny," whereas you think of it almost as a collision.

I was going to say collaboration but I think collision works better, especially for the book. You might be driving along like Jamie thinking you're making certain choices, and then all of a sudden a lion is there! Or someone has dumped a body in the waste bucket.


AS: Yeah, collision is very accurate. It's an illusion that you have total control, it's also a bizarrely privileged position for someone to ponder why others can't live the way they do - well, they just haven't hit that wall yet. And maybe they never will, but a life without unexpected illness, death and defeat isn't likely to sustain you.

And that's not to be negative. These things are standard. These losses are already coming.


JT: Yeah for sure. Then for some people there is more on top of that.


AS: Oh yeah, it's a sad joke to assume you're the captain of your fate.

Despite all the awfulness I put you through, was there sympathy there at the end? Does the walk through fire seem worth it, or has everything just been burned beyond recognition?


JT: I think there is sympathy. There are some characters that are just write-offs, like Astor or the Brothers Vine, 

but Moses and Jamie both make decisions at the end that can been seen as good decisions (once again not wanting to give anything away).

I think we feel for both of them. For Moses, it's a bit different because we feel sympathy in that he's so messed up and just keeps getting in deeper the more the book goes on. We know there is probably no hope for him. With Jamie, I feel like rather than digging himself into a hole, he's trying to get out of one. He improves his situation and who he is as a person as he goes. Even though he's leaning into the madness that's come for him once he hit the lion, we see a different Jamie than who he was in highschool, probably because he has a kid now, something to give him purpose.

At least that's how I read it. There are a lot of very tragic characters. All the parents are super damaged... beyond repair really like Moses becomes. And I think that maybe now that Jamie has become a parent, we see him in a sweet-spot moment at the end of the book, but he might be doomed to live out similar lives as the other parents in the book. We never know what else he'll end up going through.


AS: Yeah, there's always the potential for it to become cyclical.


JT: Did you want there to be sympathy at the end? From talking with you, it seemed like you thought redemption was kinda beside the point.


AS: Oh, I don't think there is any real redemption there, I think generally that’s a fantasy. More sympathy in spite of the lack of redemption, like in Moses’ case, to feel for him when you know what he's done can't be undone. Sympathy because you recognize something human there.


You can pre-order WASTE here, or come on out to the Toronto launch on March 23 at The Garrison.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Jess Taylor

Jess Taylor is a Toronto writer and poet. She founded The Emerging Writers Reading Series in 2012 and is the fiction editor of Little Brother Magazine. She's released two chapbooks of poetry, And Then Everyone: Poems of the West End (Picture Window Press, 2014) and Never Stop (Anstruther Press, 2014). This October, her first collection of short stories, Pauls, was published by BookThug. The title story from the collection, "Paul," received the 2013 Gold Fiction National Magazine Award. Jess is currently at work on a second collection, a novel, and a continuation of her life poem, Never Stop.

You can contact Jess throughout the month of February at

Go to Jess Taylor’s Author Page