RARA-AVIS: Jack O'Connell

From: Mark Harris ( mark_r_harris@yahoo.com)
Date: 09 Nov 2001

Colin wrote:

< I wonder how the fictional New England in O'Connell's series - Box Nine etc, town of Quinsigamond relates to Boston? >

And later:

< Jack O Connell, who I think is ace, futuristic
(reminds me of Blade Runner a little, but then all dystopian cities get that) Quinsigamond - a run down New England factory town. It works for me, is consistent, and, I suppose vitally, allows O Connell to come up with all the noir quarters
- racial and criminal
- - that anyone could desire. I like Box Nine and the most recent Word Made Flesh (??). I wouldn't want to live in Quinsigamond. >

Of O'Connell's four published novels, I've only read the first, Box Nine (I was alerted to it by a Marilyn Stasio rave in the New York Times Book Review). I quite liked it and ought to read the rest. The template for Quinsigamond is O'Connell's native Worcester, which is indeed an atmospheric and depressing town (but a lot smaller than the city O'Connell describes). I found some Internet references to the relation between the real and the imagined cities:


< It is well-known by now that Worcester, with its looming, lifeless factory buildings and desolate dinosaur of a train station serves as the blue print for the fictional world of Quinsigamond. However, it is quite clear after reading Word Made Flesh that its townies aren't fleeing to Boston and Providence to find the action on a Saturday night. "It's not so much that it's this exact translation from Worcester into Quinsigamond," O'Connell says over coffee at the Corner Lunch, which, naturally, overlooks Quinsigamond Avenue. "It [the novel] sort of takes these building blocks that are Worcester and then I just let my imagination run roughshod over them," he laughs. If Quinsigamond is the Worcester of Jack O'Connell's imagination, then maybe he needs to run for City Council. >


< When Boston literally was the Hub of its world, the small industrial cities of New England thrived. Now they are in steep decline, and none more so than Jack O'Connell's 'Quinsigamond'. From geographic evidence, Quinsigamond is Worcester, forty miles west of Boston. But internal evidence suggests a much larger city, a fantastic creation of the Decline of the Later American Empire, part New York and part New Orleans during Mardi Gras. >

Here are links to a couple of fascinating interviews with O'Connell that discuss his literary and genre influences. The first interview is more straightforward, the second a little more tongue-in-cheek:


< I've lived my entire life within approximately two square miles. I sometimes think it might be convenient to carry business cards that read Worcester is not Quinsigamond. Worcester is, however, the place I know better than any other, with the exception of Quinsigmond. I spent uncountable hours driving around this city with my father. Through my eight-year-old eyes, this rustbelt mill town was a living story. I'm not sure I can say it better than that. All those half-destroyed factories, all those ethnic enclaves, all those rail yards, and scrap lots, and the ruined train station, all those streets that twisted and turned without logic, they all seemed both frightening and enormously intriguing. While to most of my boyhood friends, our town was the definition of a dead end, to me it was the antithesis of the mundane. Now, looking back, it was an amazingly elaborate noir set waiting for a film crew that never arrived. Lots of dark alleys and shadowy warehouses and decayed Victorian manses. But I don't plug the nuts and bolts of my city into my book. Instead, I let my imagination warp the city, enlarge it. I pillage its DNA and radiate it until it glows neon. >

This second interview covers 5 webpages, so you have to follow the links:


< A lifelong resident of Worcester, Mass., O'Connell has mutated that city into Quinisgamond, the setting for all his books thus far. "Q-town," according to O'Connell, "is a monstrous, teeming, surreal berg loaded with gangsters and fanatics, pilgrims and killers, lunatics and mongrels, deviants and visionaries. It's the last seat of the lost American heart. And I say that with my tongue only slightly in my cheek. It's the vault that holds all my nightmares. Q-town is what the inside of my skull looks like." >

Mark R. Harris

__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Find a job, post your resume. http://careers.yahoo.com

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# majordomo@icomm.ca.  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 09 Nov 2001 EST