Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"Singer Distance"

Ethan Chatagnier is the author Singer Distance, a novel just out from Tin House Books, and of Warnings from the Future, a story collection from Acre Books in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals including the Kenyon Review Online, Georgia Review, New England Review, Story, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Cincinnati Review. His stories have won a Pushcart Prize and been listed as notable in the Best American Short Stories and the Million Writers Award.

Chatagnier is a graduate of Fresno State, where he won the Larry Levis Prize in Poetry, and of Emerson College, where he earned an MA in Publishing and Writing. He lives in Fresno, California with his family.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Singer Distance, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Singer Distance displays some tension between Rick and his friends about whether Crystal’s message to Mars will succeed. Here’s the relevant part of it:
While Priya was never prone to the same bouts of poesy as Crystal, she was the most socially adept person in the program—not the hardest crown to wear in a community of professional mathematicians, but still: she was easy to talk to. Except she had spent most of our trip looking like she had a stomachache. A certain amount of that could be written off as the travails of travel, the indignities of the road, too much time in the close-quarters company of smelly men, but something had clearly been bothering her.

“I know you’ve put a lot of planning into this. I hope you have a plan for if it doesn’t work,” she said.

“Why come all this way if you don’t think it’ll work?”

“I do think it’ll work. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think it was going to work. But an outside observer would bet on our failure. No offense, but you’re a little lovestruck. You’re taking a lot on faith. We didn’t bring this to our professors because we know it might fail.”

“We didn’t tell our professors because we know it might succeed. No one else is going to get the credit for what she figured out.”
As an overall test, I don’t think this works well enough to be a thorough picture of Singer Distance. The question of whether Crystal has truly solved the Curious Language is important to Part 1 of the novel, but to paraphrase a character from the book, calling it representative of the novel would be like seeing one side of a pyramid and calling it the whole thing. The most important sides of the novel are the quest to measure up to Mars by solving their mathematics, the indefinable nature of physical and emotional distances, and the way love holds up, or doesn’t, over time.

I like to think of Singer Distance as equal parts quest, love story, mystery, and meditation on emotional distance. Page 69 touches on an aspect of the quest—what will its result be?—but without delving into the why behind the quest, it doesn’t connect that aspect to the others. The verdict: as a test of the novel, I wouldn’t call it inaccurate, but I would call it incomplete.
Visit Ethan Chatagnier's website.

Q&A with Ethan Chatagnier.

--Marshal Zeringue