Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
Gary Indiana’s Horse Crazy is a raucous and hilarious whirlwind of obsession; with writing, love, delusion and, in the end, with surviving. Although this is his first novel, creating desperately funny, and deadly powerful characters is not a new feat. They can be witnessed strutting through his satirical plays, The Roman Polanski Story and Phantoms of Louisiana; and parading their wit throughout his books of short stories, Shanghai, Scar Tissue, and White Trash Boulevard.
Max Blagg Do you think people will recognize themselves in Horse Crazy?
Gary Indiana Yeah, people will always recognize themselves, no matter what you write. You could write a complete fantasy and people would think you were writing about them. It’s always the case. I’m not too concerned about that, unless somebody sues me.
MB You didn’t want to write a book about the plague.
GI No, to me it’s about emotional life; when you fall in love with somebody, how your life gets all screwed up and overturned. It’s not an everyday occurrence. And when it happens, all the structures that are so important to normal life go out the window. Part of the story is that this narrator, very much like myself, has a lot of insecurities: about getting old, about not having a person there, about whether or not he’s attractive to other people…This becomes more complicated when you’re not living in a sexually liberated environment, or an environment where people are comfortable expressing their sexuality. So, for that reason alone, the AIDS story had to come into it.
MB This is a book in which the two lovers are men. It’s not, however, a “gay” book.
GI Some of the things that are particular and unique in this book have to do with the fact that the two lovers are both men. But I’m so tired of people’s coming-out-of-the-closet dramas. It’s so pathetic. I think people are rooting around for some kind of really stolid and intractable stance that they can take in relationship to the rest of the world. I just don’t think these things are so fixed and rigid as middle-class American white boys seem to believe. I’m sure I’ll catch a lot of shit from the so-called “gay community” for the book, because I’m really not so interested in all of that, on a certain level. Of course, on a certain level of political struggle, I would support a lot of things that I have no particular interest in participating in. But you start saying, “This one’s gay, this one’s black, this one’s different from that,” and suddenly everybody has a very ferocious personal stake in claiming what is the correct way to express that. God forbid you should write a book about two fags and have it come out as unhappily and also as untragically as this book does. I did think about having him run over by a truck at the end, since you can do anything you want in fiction. But…
MB He did rather deserve it. Did you have fun in creating such an obnoxious character as Gregory? Because he certainly comes through as really quite despicable.
GI I’ve known a lot of junkies, so I had a lot of material to draw on. The character, like a lot of junkies, is very charismatic and physically very beautiful. But manipulative in this way that even unattractive junkies can be. You always believe anything they tell you, no matter what an outrageous whopping lie it is, because you want to. Especially if you love somebody, youwant to believe them all the time. We both know people who just lie through their teeth about everything; you can’t believe them or trust them for a second. And yet, they have this kind of sociopathic charm that makes you want to believe everything.
MB Toward the end, you say that he’s finally unmasked or has no more mask. It is pitiful.
GI The thing that was interesting, given who these characters are, is that it would have been impossible for this type of relationship to go on for that long at any other time. In other words, that the narrator could be manipulated that much without any kind of return sexually from the person has to do with the specific time frame of the book: when AIDS became apparent. Also, it could only happen to somebody who was obsessively in love with someone. I’m sure stories like this have happened between men and women, between men and men, between women and women all the time, but the intensity of it, combined with the complete lack of physicality wouldn’t happen in 1975. This book is the modern world as we know it.
MB Right, right. There would be no reason for the lack of actual sex. The narrator would eventually get sick of the situation and go elsewhere.
GI The only other thing to say is that the character Gregory is a despicable little shit, and, at the same time, he’s obviously somebody who’s very intelligent and attractive. I noticed reading the book through, again, that I don’t really describe him very much, physically, after the beginning. But the idea I had was that this was somebody who was so gorgeous people would just follow him down the street to get a better look at him. Those people, you know, are always monsters. They can get away with anything, really.
Betsy Sussler Gary, you say your character, Gregory, is a complete shit. The fact that he’s a desperate liar and a silly cheat is not imagined, but exposed in the first few pages of the novel. And yet, the narrator says it’s a love story, a love story between the narrator and Gregory. What is imagined, here?
GI That this person is going to yield to seduction, and not just by sleeping with him but by turning into the person he wants to sleep with. I, as a writer, expose what this person is right away but, in fact, the narrator doesn’t understand or interpret what he’s receiving from Gregory in a logical way. He is filtering everything through his desire. Basically. Gregory is a hologram. Whatever is desirable about him is a complete holographic projection on the part of the narrator.
BS Gregory’s lies become a method with which to create a bizarre and wonderful narrative. Unravelling it is something like a detective story. In the beginning you write, “Love is like a crime.” What do you mean by that?
GI It’s like the cliché about looking for love in all the wrong places. What he wants to find is somebody who will truly understand him. This is what love is. He wants Gregory because Gregory, maybe unlike most of the people he’s tried to be loved by, is very intelligent. Gregory understands how this person’s mind works so well that he’s able to manipulate him into a pretzel. He can push, let’s say, the same buttons that the narrator’s parents can push. He can extract the same feelings of guilt and inadequacy. What was the question?
BS “Love is like a crime.” Is it?
GI In a certain way. This particular love is like a crime on both sides. On the one hand, the narrator is pretending. He’s not really in love with Gregory but what he wants Gregory to be. And on the other, Gregory has a feeling towards him that is like love in the most dependent sense—which is criminal—to attach feelings which are normal between children and their parents to a lover. “If you care about me and love me you’ll let me do anything and still forgive me.”
BS Why doesn’t the narrator have a name? He’s not to be confused with you?
GI No. I can explain it elliptically by saying that the form of the book demanded that since it’s about the act of writing at the same time that it’s about this story, the fact that it’s a first person narrative became important. It became important for the narrator to simply be “I” rather than a character. There are two psychological entities in the book and one of them is the object and one of them is the subject. The object has to be named because it has to be identified, projected on; it has to serve all these different functions.
BS Horse Crazy is less a novel about obsessive love than a novel obsessed—with writing.
GI The book began as a comedy about not being able to generate a book. A chronicle of all the distractions the writer could invent to not write. And the obsessive character of it is the obsessive character of the narrator who doesn’t really even know if he’s telling a story. At the beginning of the last chapter, which, by the way, is stolen, I want you to know, the first paragraph of the last chapter was stolen from the last chapter of Cosmos in Gombrowicz. It’s the only appropriated passage in the whole book; he says, “I find it difficult to tell the rest of this story. Incidentally, I am not sure that it is one. Such a continual accumulation and disintegration of things can hardly be called a story.”
BS In the beginning, the narrator says “I don’t have the heart to tell my own story.”
GI He basically doesn’t have the concentration to tell his own story, but of course, he finds a way to do it.
BS The narrator says, “I always wanted something to take control of my life; fill my consciousness.” Writing does that. The dilemma is, what to write about. You spin a tale around this dilemma. But what about the narrator’s obsession with his character, Gregory?
GI I would say that the story of this person’s obsession with another person is what enabled the book to get written. In other words, it was a real story. As the narrator says, in the beginning, it’s the only thing in his life that seems to have a beginning and a middle and an end. But it could have been a lot of other things. If you have a story, then it’s possible to write. It doesn’t have to be a story about an obsessive love. But on a certain level, I need this content. I mean it is a story about delusion, about mistaking people for something that you want to find in the world. And in a funny way, it becomes this solipsism; if you’re lucky enough to get old enough and realize it’s an illusion—which he does in the end. This is a theme in other things that I’ve done. One man’s obsession with another.
BS Near the end you write, “It is at this point in a novel that the specter of random violence appears…” And yet, nothing of that sort happens at all. (Unless you can call “people dropping like flies” from the plague, random violence, which you intimate.) In fact, nothing happens; no ending. Why?
GI Because that’s the way things really happen. You’re intensely involved with a person emotionally, he drives you crazy. You’re on the telephone all the time screaming at him or telling other people about how much difficulty you’re having, and then at a certain point, your feelings change. And years later, walking down the street, you walk right past this person and you don’t even recognize them. I remember once, I had to go to Atlanta for some business and I had drinks with a woman at a cocktail lounge in the hotel. It was kind of a busy little cocktail lounge, and she said, “You see that tubby middle aged guy in the checkered sport coat that just came in? Ten years ago, I almost killed myself for him.” (laughter)
BS There is a man in your book who has lost his lover. The narrator believes that the pain of this loss will lead this man to eventually commit suicide. So in fact, the possibility is there—that one can die from loss of love. And there is a deadly disease one gets from lovemaking. You are intercutting your experiences with Gregory—the love and the longing and the lack of it—with scenes with people who are in fact, dying. You write, “Every death in my life has announced itself over the phone.” There’s nothing left of them but what you write.
GI Let’s go back to what I said earlier about love. My understanding of love between people is that what people want from others is to find someone who understands them so that they understand each other. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that if you have a relationship with someone for many many years who completes the part of yourself that experiences the world as a lack; that losing that person could make you kill yourself. In the book that character is based on a specific person who really existed and who I really knew.
BS He did kill himself?
BS After the book was written?
GI I had just finished the book, when he killed himself. To be perfectly honest, I lied about it in the book. I didn’t think he would. But that’s the difference between being outside something and inside something. I, in my egotism, thought that I had actually talked him out of it.
BS Then it was in the book, in the writing, that you conjured the truth?
GI I hadn’t thought of that. The thing is, if you lose enough people in your life, you begin to wonder about things, even if you’re not a suicidal type, which I’m not, it does erase a certain amount of meaning from reality. And you don’t really know what to replace it with except your own acknowledgement of death. Everyone’s going and you’re going to go too someday. And of course it’s all cultural, too. There was a time not too many hundreds of years ago when people naturally died at 35. My problem with a lot of what goes on right now, in terms of feeling horrified at this disease, is a matter of being appalled at the sudden curtailment of the kind of medical health that is really very recent and the privilege of a people living in an advanced society. It’s not at all unusual in the Third World for people to die quite young. We experience it differently because of the expectations of life that we came into the world with. We were the first generation of people to have a Salk vaccine, flu shots—so you didn’t get diphtheria, small pox, measles. We are the first generation to actually not have these kinds of illnesses. And low and behold we get into our thirties and this thing is coming along that’s killing everybody. And the additional fact that it’s sexually transmitted is very freaky. It’s the thing that affects people most. The idea that it has to do with sexuality is what makes it so hideous.
BS The last the reader hears of Gregory we don’t see him, but the narrator hears and tells us that he’s been sighted—in an Egyptian tomb at the Metropolitan Museum. Don’t you find that ironic?
GI No. I think it’s really appropriate, because it turns him into an archetype. Something you would see inscribed in hieroglyphics—he is some kind of creepy love god from Hell. An incubus. He has a demonic character; he’s not just pathetic. I mean, I hadn’t really thought about the symbolic aspect of him being in the Temple of Dendur, but you’re right, it is a good place for him. I can also see him being spotted in a used car dealership, frankly, wearing a really loud sports coat.
BS There is a demi-monde in New York that embraces sleaze. All those desperate people who still think it’s cool to die young. Horse Crazy is the quintessential New York novel. It isn’t a wacky, safe (as in homogenized and palatable) vision of what people would like to think New York is like.
GI Yeah. Gregory is the kind of kid, who came from Connecticut, 18 or 19, went to the Mudd Club, saw all those people in their late twenties being cool and striking poses—but they were doing work—and he didn’t get that part of it. To him, it was all about the pose. You see it now. It hasn’t stopped. There are people who still think crawling from one night club to another every night is some kind of glamourous activity. He’s like that.
BS You say that Gregory has power. And he is a powerful character. However, we could also say, he is powerless. He’s only consumable as long as long as he’s unavailable. Once he’s consumed…
GI He doesn’t have control over his own existence. He has power because people give him power. It’s true, it’s only because he’s young and good looking. You can’t see this guy turning out to be Don Johnson at 40. It’s just not going to happen for him that way.
BS Who has the power?
GI Well, obviously the narrator has the power because he’s the one who ends up telling the story.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.