Ten years ago, I spent some time talking to Eric Bogosian, who reads tonight from “Operation Nemesis: The Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide” at Brookline Booksmith. Bogosian took a hiatus from writing and acting to research and write this book, which the New York Times reviewed favorably. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/books/review/19bkr-kanon.t.html?_r=0 Begosian, of course, is of Armenian heritage and no doubt the Turkish denial that it even was genocide has irked him for years. What’s he’s unearthed has to do with the assassinations of the genocide leaders by a small group of Armenian avengers. Begosian lays out the case that what the did was largely justified but also inadvertently paved the way for other killings most of us now consider terrorism. He’ll certainly get into all of that tonight. But, for now, a taste of our talk ten years ago …
Bogosian considers himself a “semi-celebrity.” He walks into a room, and heads turn. But it’s not as though his mug is plastered all over the screen, and it would seem he likes it that way.
Bogosian, who grew up in Woburn and lives in New York, is a hyphenate: novelist-playwright-performance-artist-actor-apple- grower. For three years, he worked on his latest novel, “Wasted Beauty,” a 260-page effort that he whittled down from 800 pages.
“I will keep removing until it’s stripped down,” he says. “I want to keep asking myself to tell a story that’s a good story.” It’s not a pleasant story. It primarily concerns the lives of Reba, upstate New York farm-girl-turned-supermodel-turned-junkie, and Rick, a bored, middle-age professional and husband and father who thinks he should be content but isn’t and, in fact, craves anarchy.
Bogosion has just started considering the book’s impact on readers. He’s come to realize that the book is “rocky.” “Men get bent out of shape about it,” he says. “Women over 30 seem to like it.” He’s not quite sure he wants his wife, theater director Jo Bonney, to read it.
Q. I started reading “Wasted Beauty” and thought, “Great, I like Eric Bogosian’s stuff, and this is a short book. I’ll have it done in two nights.” I couldn’t read more than 20 pages at a time. It was so dark and disturbing. These characters are making my skin crawl.
A. [Laughter] I have to live with them all the time. Do I think of them as bad or horribly disturbing people? I have to back up to answer that question. I’ve just begun talking about the book. After 9/11, I made a deal with myself that I wasn’t going to write stories that were entertainingly negative or cynical it wasn’t the real me. I actually think of myself as a mushball. I hadn’t thought this book was particularly negative or disturbing, but I can feel there’s a lot going on. The source of the two main focal points [was this]: The girl was inspired by [the late supermodel] Gia Carangi. I come from Woburn, which was more working-class then, and I knew kids like Gia, good old high school buddies, and I can imagine somebody like that thrust into the heady fashion industry. I was pondering this notion of this woman isolated by her looks, and that was the beginning of Reba, who becomes Rena [when she models]. Rick, on the other hand, he vibrates very close to my own core. He’s 45. I started writing this when I was 48. He’s a professional, he excels in his field, has two kids, is married. I’m trying to put my finger on a kind of existential nausea that can pervade the supposedly happy marriage. I was listening to what men my age were saying, writing about the path not taken. I feel like I have superpowers to inhabit people’s lives, [to discover the] emotional landscape of characters. I put them in situations and just be a fly on the wall.
Q. Why is the book relatively short?
A. When I read novels, I find myself skipping forward. There are too many books to read! When I started writing more about Rick’s wife, it slowed down the wheels of Rick.
Q. But you’ll spend time with a book if you love the author. Who are those for you?
A. Early Updike. Bellow. Russell Banks. Roth he’s my hero. He’s given me courage, given me a license. He’s only gotten stronger, his palette wider.
Q. There are some incredibly harrowing and realistic-seeming depictions of heroin use, including the first scene in the book. How familiar are you with that world?
A. Pretty familiar. I did drugs, but over 20 years ago. [The scene at the beginning of the book], I watched the girl do that. It was so sad it burned into my brain forever. I was part of that world and did those things, and I don’t want to romanticize it. I’m glad I got out relatively unscathed, but I know what I’m talking about. I did drugs with [New York punk rock band] Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. They got me into drugs. The guy who introduced me to heroin was the guy who used to hold Johnny upright on stage. I saw them play this one great set one time, and it was like getting a good bag of dope: Once you got it, you wanted it again. But they were so sloppy [every other time].
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I’m working on various fronts, a couple of plays, one with [composer/multi-instrumentalist] Elliott Sharp, turning this odd monologue into a full-length production called “This Is Now.” The book-writing thing is so intense, physically intense, but I will begin another one. I’m also doing a graphic novel for DC/VERTIGO, “R.O.A.D.,” this dystopian, slightly futuristic thing where I knock out a book a month. I’m not writing screenplays at the moment. I did adaptations and the money was amazing, but spending a year on a project having people poke me with pitchforks makes me not want to do anything else. I’m not really a Hollywood guy.
Q. So, what do you do for fun?
A. I don’t do anything else. You know Larry David? That’s me without shopping for clothes or going to restaurants. My idea is: How can I avoid people? I spend time with my two kids and my wife. I develop bad posture at the keyboard. I do gardening, grow apples.
Reading starts at 7 pm. Free.
279 Harvard St., Brookline, http://www.brooklinebooksmith.com/events/mainevent.html