C.D. Rose is master of the short story, but his latest work, Who’s Who When Everyone is Someone Else (April 10, 2018, Melville House), is a novel that combines elements of mystery, fantasy and satire. Rose turns one man’s story into an exploration of something we love at BookTrib— forgotten books.
In a series of twists and hysterical turns, an unnamed narrator is invited to give ten lectures on “lost” books at an unnamed university in an unnamed country. What follows is an adventure you have to read to believe. Who’s Who When Everyone is Someone Else is witty and poetic, displaying beautiful symmetry between the characters and the scenery to the very end.
Over a series of emails, I talked with C.D. Rose about his new book, writing books about books, and why the best stories always have an element of mystery.
BookTrib: How did you come up with the concept for Who’s Who When Everyone is Someone Else and what inspired you to write a book about books?
C.D. Rose: A few years back, I was briefly very, very ill, and while (fortunately) I’m fine again now, I have to say there was a bit of a reckoning with mortality. I’ve never had a shortage of ideas for stories, but I realized I was never going to have enough time to write all the books I wanted to. I remembered a dictum by Jorge Luis Borges to the effect of, ‘Don’t bother writing great books, just pretend they have already been written, then write about them.’ It seemed the perfect solution to my conundrum.
BookTrib: There are moments throughout the book that seem almost absurd like the missing Professor, or the Professor’s strange sayings. They really add layers to the story. How did you create these moments?
CDR: Each one has its own genesis. Such as with the Profesora’s strange sayings, I’ve always been fascinated by idioms, and how they sound when literally translated from other languages. The missing Professor is based on my dealings with a labyrinthine Italian university, when I lived there. The supposed “twins,” Ana and Oto, came from one of the great German writer W.G. Sebald’s wonderful maxims: he said, simply, ‘The use of twins or triplets who are virtually indistinguishable from each other can lend a spooky, uncanny edge.’
BookTrib: Our unnamed narrator gives ten lectures on ten “lost” books. Not only do you create these books, but you write lectures on their literary value, the themes they cover, and include actual quotes from the books in this book. How and why did you create those particular books?
CDR: I had many to choose from: narrowing them down to ten was quite a task. I wanted a variety, a range of different things, each one in some way representative of a larger idea or type of writing. They are all books I fervently wish did exist.
BookTrib: There are several references to being lost, or disappearing. At the beginning, the narrator actually says, ‘I have a fear of being found out.’ Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to write a story around people who just don’t want to be figured out?
CDR: I think all of the best stories, and works of art more generally, have a sense of mystery in them, the idea that they have not yet)given up all their secrets, so they can be endlessly retold, reread, or re-viewed. Attempting to do this can be tricky, as I don’t want to baffle the reader needlessly (that’s just annoying), but finding what is hidden, or lost, or vanishing, and then examining this can create room for speculation on the part of the reader.
BookTrib: A lot of writers prefer to write about things that are completely outside of who they are in real life, they are not part of the story. However, you’re similar to Nelson Demille, who writes himself as a character in the background. You reference The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure, which is your 2014 book. Is there a specific connection?
CDR: ‘Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else’ is the sequel to the ‘Biographical Dictionary’. There is a third book in the offing, after which I hope I will be able to leave all these mysterious characters alone.
BookTrib: There’s one specific quote that I want to ask you about. It reads:
“I’d been going out with a six-foot-two, redheaded Scandinavian performance artist with a tattooed elbow, but the relationship had begun to sour when her Pekinese bit my finger, leading to an extremely unpleasant septic reaction, and when she eventually left, taking Fernando (the dog) with her, I can’t say I was too sorry, especially as it then left me more time to get on with my research in Paraguayan magic realism (an admittedly small field).”
It’s filled with so much information and as readers, we’re left with so many more questions afterwards. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of this quote?
CDR: I’d love to be able to say that this is true. I have a weakness for a certain type of very short story, one line or sentence only, seeing how much can be packed into a tiny space. This is one of my own.
BookTrib: Finally, this is a book about books. Is there one book that you think everyone should read?
CDR: James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is the one I have foisted onto many a daunted reader. It has a reputation for difficulty that isn’t entirely deserved. It is encyclopedic, at turns it is funny, tender, thought-provoking, baffling, fascinating, infuriating, rhapsodic, and above all suffused with a linguistic dexterity and joy in the powers of language, and humanity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C. D. ROSE is the author of the satirical book The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure and is an award-wining short story writer whose work has appeared in Gorse, 3AM, and other publications. He currently teaches at the University of Birmingham.