“Part of the story is to see that as misanthropic and pessimistic as Tess is, what she truly wants to do is to serve, to give everything away, to flow like water downhill. I could pick apart much of it in terms of contradiction.”
Due to the pandemic, McNally Jackson arranged a virtual launch for To Remain Nameless. In conversation with Wayne Koestenbaum, whose new book of essays, Figure It Out, was released on Soft Skull May 4.
Jane Breakell chose TO REMAIN NAMELESS as her pick for May 2020:
It’s the language of crisis, tuned to the story it tells: After years of wandering the world and considering it home, after dedicating her life to a field centered on helping humans for humans’ sake while witnessing the world grow ever more violent, Tess in the maternity ward suspects that humans are the problem. “We should all drop dead,” she thinks, rubbing her pregnant friend’s back. “It would be the best thing that could happen.”
I wrote the first sketches that would find their way into this book over ten years ago while housesitting for a Mexican painter on the coast of Oaxaca. Fresh in my mind were the years I spent in the Balkans as an itinerant journalist and aid worker. Also more recent seasons in Damascus, Beirut, and Istanbul.
I experienced the aftermath of the Bosnian war, and worked through the refugee crisis of 1999. I was holed up in Serbia, among people in whose name much killing had been done, when the US invaded Iraq. That war was at its height when I first sat down in Mexico to write.
Tess keeps vigil at the bedside of her friend Laura through a long night of labor as Laura’s first child arrives. The two have known each other for what seems like forever. Their humanitarian aid work has taken them from the Balkans, to Egypt, to Istanbul amid the ongoing refugee crisis—an era that includes the US’s war in Iraq, the Arab Spring, and many forms of global consequence and aftermath. Brad Fox’s first novel is a luminous inquiry into the incarnations and limits of hope. This writer helps us endure our questions about what forms care may take, what we may offer to anyone, near and far.
PRAISE FOR TO REMAIN NAMELESS:
Brad Fox’s virtuoso novelistic voice, alternately terse and florid, in the mode of José Saramago, Roberto Bolaño, or Alberto Moravia, is sonorous, lapidary, and melancholy—a seamless dreamy fabulist omniscience, bearing world-weary witness to perilous events, both inner and outer. Fox gives the impression of having lived underground or in other centuries and of only now emerging from his hiding place to narrate these limpid yet dense fantasias. A phenomenally gifted novelist and a probing intellectual, he transforms critical thinking into dramatic scenario. “Thought” isn’t appended to the story, but emerges in the complicated telling of the tale. In a bravura feat of formal construction, To Remain Nameless flashes between a birth scene and international adventures: from the cramped, germinating vantage of a hospital room, the novelist unfurls a teeming network of international exaltations and disappointments. The room compresses; the world expands. Djuna Barnes and Virginia Woolf pioneered this trick of simultaneous engorgement and diminution, of funhouse-mirror space-time reversal; and now Brad Fox, wonder-worker, takes up the dizzying mantle. WAYNE KOESTENBAUM
Daring, vivid and utterly original, Brad Fox’s debut is a tour de force. CLAIRE MESSUD
To Remain Nameless is a gorgeous meditation on a shifting self in a shifting world, a querying-onward in which there’s both melancholy and delight. SHELLEY JACKSON
My novel To Remain Nameless will be out May 1, 2020, published by Rescue Press:
By ten o’clock they were sitting in an alleyway off Istiklal, with dozens of empty plates in front of them, the last remnants of sardines and liver, of garlic-boiled seagrasses and pistachio halva, smoking Rothmans from the Stockholm airport and drinking rakı without water. Laura now pulled out her chair and got up. Tess watched her climb on top of the table, squat there with her shoes between the empty plates. Laura bunched up her skirt, pressed her palms down on her knees, and pissed. She pissed out all the forms and reports and information requests and extensions and follow-up grant proposals and ROAs and tax documents that had ever passed through her fingers, so it all poured from the tabletop onto the concrete alley off Istiklal, seeped into the sewer and ran down to the Bosporus and then the Marmara and the Mediterranean, dissolving into the soup the dolphins leapt through at the Gates of Hercules, then reached over to plant a big muscled kiss on each of the pliant mouths of these visitors from the West.