Witty wordplay and cutting banter transported the audience at the New York Public Library to the almost fictional world of Crakers, wolvogs, and rakunks, a one-armed man with a weed whacker prosthesis, and death by a wood chipper.
Distinguished Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood and investigative reporter-turned-novelist Carl Hiaasen appeared together in conversation at LIVE from the NYPL, an initiative that seeks to engage New Yorkers with celebrated authors, filmmakers, musicians, and artists.
While the literary duo held the audience in a constant state of laughter, Atwood and Hiaasen’s wit did not distract from their deep reflections on the state of the human condition, while at the same time highlighting their own broad literary influences and creative writing processes. The wave of wisecracks in their performance became an effective vehicle through which they conveyed insightful observations on the world, comedy, and the profundity of our existence.
Humorous anecdotes about their snake-handling experiences led to a thoughtful discussion on the relationship to, and the influence of, nature in their work. Hiaasen spoke extensively on the loss of human enchantment with natural beauty.
“There is an absence of a sort of marveling at nature,” he said.
Atwood agreed, adding that children used to marvel at the world.
“The reason they don’t is that their parents are too afraid to let them outside the house,” Atwood said.
Along these lines, the evening centered on the history and future of the dystopian novel. Atwood recounted the evolution of this idea from its utopian ancestor, “Vril, the Power of the Coming Race,” a work by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The onset of the great world wars and the threat of nuclear holocaust made it difficult to write utopian novels, Atwood said.
“The imagined world didn’t have a lot of places to go except to dystopia,” she said.
For the most part, Atwood and Hiaasen effortlessly jousted about each other’s novels, obviously familiar with one another’s work and comfortable on stage. They kept heavy stories and themes light with funny personal anecdotes, easy repartee, and laughter. Their conversation was in line with their literary style—creative and fun with some ominous and forbidding undertones.