Ed Park on Panoramic Storytelling

This week on The Maris Review, Ed Park joins Maris Kreizman to discuss Same Bed Different Dreams, out now from Random House.

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from the episode:

Maris Kreizman: I love that we are told explicitly, throughout the novel, that writing from different viewpoints at different times in history is helpful in understanding how the world works.

Ed Park: Yeah, once I broke out of the idea that it would all just backtrack… Most of the original version was just a straight first person, Soon Sheen, with some flashbacks, and some stuff that I didn’t use. It was fine, but it just didn’t feel agile enough or capacious enough to get at what I kind of gradually understood were the themes of the book. Not to sound pretentious, but, you know, books like Ulysses and Pale Fire, kind of the usual suspects, but also there’s a novel called The White Hotel by a writer named D.M. Thomas, a British writer who passed away this year. Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Just books with a lot of parts. I think there’s a pulse if the writer is passionate. Like, I feel like he or she can just tell it in all these different modes and you kind of get a more panoramic view of the story.

And it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely not for every book and I’m not saying like, oh, my next book will be that way. But, even Personal Days, which is a relatively short book, it’s like a third or a quarter of the size of this one. The first part of that book is in the first person plural, but at around page 60, I was like, that’s enough, you know, I get it, the reader’s going to get it, and so I was like, let’s do something radical. And the next part is kind of written as a report, and then as I neared the 40-page mark, I was like, okay, enough of that. The story had developed enough that I thought this kind of long unpunctuated piece of prose poetry would emerge in the last third. So I guess at this point it’s part of my style, but it’s something I like to read anyway as well, in other books that is.

MK: And I love that you trust the reader to be okay with not knowing a bunch of different things.

EP: Yeah.

MK: But you also give the reader breadcrumbs. Towards the end, one of the characters says, this all wraps up in the final book. Tell me about establishing that trust though, because you had me the whole time.

EP: Oh, great. Yeah, that’s quite a trick. Breadcrumbs is a good way of putting it. Every time you start a section that is different in structure or voice than the previous one, as a writer, there is this burst of freedom and energy. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s like, okay, now here’s a fresh canvas.

Like, this is a triptych. I’m putting new marks on the page, on the canvas. But I think once you get enough into that, whatever this new section is, then you have to really think, how does it relate? Like, in my head, maybe I know it relates, but the reader’s gotta know after a couple pages. Why am I reading this part? Who are these people?

When a lot of the book was done, but still not completely finished, I realized in some of these, especially in the notorious third strand that I’ve been alluding to which goes under the title 2333, I realized that some of these minor characters could actually be characters from the other sections of the book. And so it was like, a bit like Easter eggs or cameos or walk-on roles. But it’s there if readers want it. I think it also works if you don’t catch on to it. But upon revising and editing it, it always made me smile to see like, oh, this is that character when she was a teenager.

And it almost changes the sensation of time because you’re reading something later that actually happened decades earlier, and it just gives it a much more complex, and I hope satisfying, feel.

MK: Yeah, let’s keep talking about time, because I love that  in various parts of the book there’s the idea that, okay, if you have VCR,  you can suddenly tape television shows and your entire world opens up in a way that suddenly you have so much time. And then, and then there’s something similar with, with the idea of how many movies you can see in a lifetime.

EP: Yeah.

MK: And then, of course, there’s the idea that war throws it completely off balance.

EP: Part of what I’m finding interesting about this book… I was conscious of certain things as I was writing it, but then other things kind of sink in later. I mean, as much as it is about Korean things and Korean American things and how Korean history and American history interlock, the character Soon Sheen is roughly my age, comes from Buffalo like I did, whose father was a psychiatrist like mine. But it’s also kind of a snapshot or a memory of the 1980s, not to get too Stranger Things, but that’s when I came of age and I feel like I remember the first VCR and just being like, wow, what does this mean? Like, at the time it could seem like just a new machine, a new gadget, but it was actually quite profound, especially kind of as we get into Dream 5, the last section of the book. I feel very emotional actually talking about it now. The book is quite fictional in most respects, but you know, a lot of those memories and impressions are almost like me trying to preserve that moment in time and that moment in my life. I hope other people, future generations, find it interesting, but it felt important as I went on and time and history became such a big part of the book.

Recommended Reading:

Generations by Lucille CliftonA Writer Prepares by Lawrence Block


Ed Park is the author of the novels Personal Days and Same Bed, Different Dreams. He is a founding editor of The Believer, and has worked in newspapers, book publishing, and academia. His writing appears in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. Born in Buffalo, he lives in Manhattan with his family.

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