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My Autobiographical Novel: Nathaniel G. Moore's Shameless Giller Bait

Cover Savage

Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 is not simply a way for its author to jump on the autobiographical-novel bandwagon, thank you very much. Nope, he's in it to win the Giller Prize. Here, he explains why, and also gives us the lowdown on the "monstrous gelatinous blob of middle-class meatloaf" that is his latest novel. 

*****

In 2009, Mark Medley at the National Post wrote “Nathaniel G. Moore will never, ever win the Giller Prize. He probably considers this a badge of honour.” Maybe he’s right. It was spot on enough that I wasn’t nominated in 2010, and The Walrus favourited or tweeted the Giller punch line the day the piece came out. Medley continued by describing me as “a writer so far removed from the CanLit conversation that he might as well be writing in another language.” The point of the piece however, was, from what I can surmise, that I was and am satisfied living as a big fish in a tiny small-press pond. But what if he is wrong and I truly am trying to win the Giller Prize each time I put publishers through what I put publishers through? So comes Savage 1986–2011, my first book in four years and what I can honestly say is my best work.

Hooray; now do I win?

Savage 1986–2011 is about a Toronto family coming to terms with its implosion. It has been suggested (mostly by me) that the family in the novel is based partially on my own Leaside family. The reasons I didn’t market this or try to sell it as a memoir are simple: I don’t deserve a memoir, I’m not famous, I haven’t done anything miraculous to quantify a non-fiction self-appraisal of my raison d’etre or coming of age, but most importantly, I wrote the novel to win the Giller Prize for novelistic greatness in 2014.

I can honestly brush off claims that the connections between the novel and my life go very deep; it would be mistaken and scurrilous to try to identify individual people as those who did my laundry. Didn’t Sheila Heti claim the Sheila in her novel was not named Sheila Heti but simply Sheila? My character's name is Nate, which is one of many nicknames of my Christian name Nathaniel. I never had an older sister who was into Nirvana, not that I know of anyway, and I never worked at a wrestling media company. That sounds made up!

The story is simple: a family is formed with a haunting pre-marriage secret which by the late 1990s begins to show signs of the horrendous pain it has caused, pain which spills into the emotional 1990s until the family has a nuclear meltdown. Each character deals with the cancellation of the usual family sitcom routine in different ways. There are glamorous '80s bike rides and cottage romps, masturbation sessions, Friday the 13th (VHS) movie marathons, camcorder montages reflecting on suburban anxieties and domestic chore triumphs (garages being cleaned in Herculean fortitude, bedrooms being tidied in stop-motion ecstasy) and tons of seemingly, at the time, important teen introspection. There are hospital stays, dying senior citizens under the cloud of SARS, financial and emotional worry and cats that never seem to die or even move.

With all that emotional shrapnel hell-bent and hurtling towards the readers for nearly 300 pages, it’s bound to make an emotional impact on teens, tweens, aging hipsters, the condo-owning middle-aged, the silver-haired where-are-my-children-oh-right-they-left-the-nest crowd and of course the college-level English Literature drop-outs. Oh, and A Million Little Pieces author James Frey.

As we know, genre is important; categories make the world go around. And though the autobiographical novel is a trend like girls who wear scarves in summer and the boys and girls in skinny jeans with Converse who trot slow down the Ossington strip each night, my book is actually much more profound.

The blending of fact, family and the allegoric backdrop of that dramatic backstage cash-grab known as professional wrestling is, in my belief, quite simply at the forefront of progressive rock, er, literature. Somewhere between Simon & Garfunkel’s jingle-jangle and that dirty pocket of time known as grunge, I’ve tried my best to allot just enough focus on the elements that made February by Lisa Moore such a massive hit. I also changed my younger brother into an older sister to accompany the mom character on a journey into post-family realities.

It was quite the balancing act to bring a family of savages out of the cobwebs of an imagined past for one final marathon to the Giller Prize checkout. But I’ve got coupons for everyone and incredible recipes and Tupperware for leftovers. So eat up! This monstrous gelatinous blob of middle-class meatloaf took me over ten years to write!

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of five books including Wrong Bar, shortlisted for the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel. His is the co-editor of Toronto Noir and a columnist at Open Book: Toronto. His work has appeared in Joyland, subTerrain, Taddle Creek, Canadian Literature, Prism International, Filling Station, This Magazine and Verbicide. He lives in Toronto.

October 7, 2013
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