William Giraldi, the novelist, teaches at Boston University and was given paternity leave after his wife delivered their first child. He shares how those nine months of relative leisure transformed him into a near-alcoholic:
When Pascal suggested that humanity’s strife stems from our inability to sit quietly in a room by ourselves, he neglected to specify what happens when one rolls a few barrels of alcohol in for company. I cannot say precisely why my “workload reduction” coincided with my “drinking problem,” except suddenly I had so much time. Okay, the university made me sign a document that swore I’d be incurring more than 50 percent of parental duties. But let’s be honest: even in self-consciously progressive households, it’s a rare new father who does as much baby work as a new mother. …
There came, of course, the medieval hangovers that vanquished entire days. Sleep interrupted by migraines and dehydration that felt downright malarial. Iffy decisions involving the diaperless infant on an antique couch. Puffy face and puffier physique. Aches in the liver region, nights in the living room. A first-name basis with the Visigoth at the liquor store. A propensity to click “send” without reading what I’d written. Friends just itching for an intervention. I kept waiting for a knock on the door from the university officials who had so generously granted me a workload reduction. But they never came for me.
This isn’t his first time Giraldi has written about his hard-knock life. Back in October, he lamented the way his fiction was favorably compared to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy:
If most of the McCarthy comparisons have been favorable, all of them have been facile. This is testament to the McCarthy hegemony, to how wholly he dominates an entire sector of American fiction, and to how he has usurped our understanding of a certain literary pedigree. Write a novel with a specific poetical register adequate to the task of addressing nature and redemption, one which includes the sanguinary madness of men, and McCarthy is the artist languidly at hand for every reader itching to make a connection.
But McCarthy’s prominence is such that another novelist interested in the primitive flux and flex of violence, and in that crossroad where this world grinds against the other, would have to be outright masochistic to attempt to emulate him. Neither the novelist nor the novel could ever get away with it. Every page would carry its own proof of transgression, and thus its own guarantee of detection. Let’s remember, too, Walker Percy’s perfect warning to writers who attempt to channel Faulkner: “There is nothing more feckless than imitating an eccentric.”