The Lost Podcast (extract)
This is The New Yorker's Fiction Podcast. I'm Deborah Treisman, fiction editor. Each month we invite a writer to choose a story from the magazine's archives to read and discuss. This month, Edgar Bloom, whose fiction has appeared in the magazine since 1986, has chosen ‘A.C.A.,' by his son, Simon. The story was published in the magazine in 2008.
“And she's right, or not, depending on whom you talk to. She thinks there are three kinds of truth: your truth, their truth, and what really happened.”
He joins us from Blue Haven, in New South Wales. Hi, Edgar.
Edgar, your son wrote two story collections in total. ‘A.C.A.’ was added to his second collection, Newcomers, in the latest reprint. When did you first read Simon’s work?
Not for a while. He often sent it to me. I wanted to read it. What can you say? It’s… embarrassing.
His writing, or your failing to read it?
I was trying to protect him. He seemed obsessed with our past, as if it were a key to a lock. He didn’t get it. You never find your past, just a series of reflections. You think we’re going to give that up? The way we saw things?
Don’t you owe it to him?
As a child, I watched my father through his study window, his back hunched over, and the tick of the typewriter keys. I grew to love the back of his head. Years later I wrote my own stories, thinking just like dad.
He burned his writing long before he died: letters, stories, even old family photos. I stood on the back step, watching smoke fill the backyard until he’d disappeared, a shadow dissolving in the grey. I laughed. He’d been devoured by his work.
You’re avoiding the question.
Your son’s truth. Did you owe him at least some sense of closure?
I don’t know that I owed him that. The truth shifts. Look back in time, and you think you have it pinned. But talk to someone else, someone who was there. They might remember something you’d never even considered. Maybe they’ll have forgotten, or were barely there in the first place.
Are you talking about the divorce?
(Pause). No. Why would I be talking about that?
Do you think it affected him?
I think there were other factors at play.
Why did you choose this story?
I always thought Simon showed more potential than his early work suggested. Quite explicit, those first few stories.
Still, he wrote, though I rarely saw the results. He stopped showing me his work for a time, until finally he drove up specifically, gave me an early draft of ‘A.C.A..' I told him it was probably for the scrapheap.
How did he react?
He said very little. After he left I found the manuscript in the bin, a thick black line drawn diagonally through every page. He’s never been one for constructive criticism.
What do you think of the finished version?
Not that it matters now, but it’s much better. It’s a shame that he never brought it back. I would have been impressed. It would have been hard to read of course, but then, maybe that’s the point.
‘A.C.A.’ takes place in Brisbane, Australia. What’s the connection?
Simon stayed there for a few months in 2007. He headed up the coast afterward. He would call me late at night: not to talk about anything specific really, just to chat.
He called one last time. He asked how I do it, carrying on in the face of so much heartache. I said it takes patience: that he needed to trust that things would get better. He asked if I was proud of him. I said, ‘You know I am. Have I never told you that?’He said, ‘No, you’ve never told me.’He needed to get away, but told me not to worry. I said, ‘Wait,’ but he hung up. I called back, but he’d switched off his phone. We haven’t spoken since.
'The Lost Podcast' appears in Island 136, available either in print or online at the Island website, or as part of a print and online or digital only subscription.