Bill and Dave’s doesn’t always pay for a private jet to Cape Cod for lobster rolls at the Sesuit Harbor Café, nor for 12 professional parachutists to fly our subject safely down to Earth and our dinner conversation, but Nina de Gramont is one of our favorite writers and people and also married to Dave, so. It’s sunset, it’s summer still, this golden clear month of September, and this is familiar territory for Nina, this storied Cape Cod, but also in part the setting for her new novel, The Last September, about a woman whose greatest love is shattered by a murder that takes place in the first pages, even as the story moves back to the days before all that. But our meal has arrived, and the sun is a red ball on the horizon, and today is publication day.
Bill: Congratulations, Nina, on a great new book. I enjoyed it immensely, and couldn’t put it down, also really enjoyed re-reading passages. It’s beautifully put together, vivid, harrowing, smart, and even in the roughest moments, delicate, musical, compassionate, fine. Your protagonist, Brett Mercier, is named for the Hemingway character, Jake Barne’s great love in The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley, and the characters remark on this. I remember reading that novel in the sun on the steps at the Egbert Student Union at Ithaca College, 1971, reading it very fast and then starting back at the beginning, more than half in love with Brett and so miserably sorry for Jake, who’d had his dick shot off in the war, to put it as Hemingway does not. I tried to teach that novel when I was at Ohio State, and the kids really hated it, finding everyone racist and anti-Semitic, also obsessed with animal abuse, and self-pitying. How does The Sun Also Rises fit in here? Is it more than Brett’s name? And how do you read Hemingway these days?
Nina: The first thing I knew about Brett was that she needed to be named for a character in literature. I wanted to establish her lineage, that her fascination with words and stories was inherited. In a couple drafts she was named Tess, and I fiddled with Claudine. But Hemingway seemed such a nice contrast to her specialty, Emily Dickinson — both deal in unrequited love, but in very different ways. As for how I read Hemingway, I insist on loving him despite all the upsetting attitudes and content. For me the most important book is A Moveable Feast, which in ways is an apology for so much that came before in his writing and his life. And of course there was the time he lived in, and all his unbearable pain. Plus thousands of beautiful sentences.