Books: Novelist drawn to ambiguities

Nicole Krauss, only in her 30s, has become one of America’s most well-respected authors with two rec

Nicole Krauss

WHEN: Reading: 8 p.m. Thursday at the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Seminar: 4:15 p.m. in the Assembly Hall located in the Campus Center


MORE INFO: contact the New York State Writers Institute at or 442-5620.

Nicole Krauss, only in her 30s, has become one of America’s most well-respected authors with two recent books, “The History of Love” (2005) and “Great House” (2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction.

“I do feel a bit of pressure with my recent success,” she said in a phone conversation from her home in Brooklyn. “The pressure doesn’t come from the outside though. I put it on myself. I’ve now written three novels, and with each novel I feel I’ve achieved certain things, but I’ve also failed at some things. I’m often left wondering how to overcome those failures in the next book.”

Krauss will read from her latest novel at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Recital Hall in the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Earlier in the day she will give a seminar at 4:15 p.m. in Assembly Hall in the Campus Center.

“What I love about the form of the novel is that it can contain so many contradictions, much more than a short story can,” she said. “Each character has their own set of truths or beliefs and when you put those characters into conflict with other characters, that’s where all these ambiguities happen, and I find that fascinating.”

Her novels are not written in a linear way but move around in time and often involve different characters. “I think I would have a hard time writing a straight linear novel,” she said. “Whenever I juxtapose different characters and different situations, strange and exciting things begin to emerge. That’s when I begin to get excited as a writer.”

Leading to dead ends

She does admit that this process can often lead to dead ends. “I have lots of pages that are just trash piles. I keep them because I often think I may go back and find something to write about there. I often follow paths that lead me to a dead end. This happens all the time at the beginning of a novel when I’m trying to find my way. I’m currently in that process now, searching for a character’s voice to see where that leads me, and then finding another voice and exploring that.”

One of Krauss’ strengths is creating believable characters that readers care greatly about. It comes from liking the characters herself.

“I could never write as a character that in some way didn’t fascinate or thrill me,” she said.

“I also like characters who seem mysterious to me. The voice of Aaron, the Israeli father in ‘Great House,’ just came pouring out of me. The power of his voice captivated me. I loved his bluntness, his humor and even his touch of cruelty, which isn’t me, but it felt incredibly natural to me.”

When she first began writing in the voice of Aaron, she couldn’t figure him out, “which is why I kept going on,” she said.

“I wanted to find out why he was so overbearing. I understood him when I realized how he had felt rejected by one son, who favored his mother over his father.”

Krauss is known as a poetic writer; she studied poetry with Joseph Brodsky at Stanford University. “I think every writer is given certain tools that are part of their nature,” she said.

“Some of the poetry in my writing is natural for me. Who knows why or how it comes out, but that type of writing comes easily to me. It’s so natural that I sometimes try to fight it, to resist it. I hate when people refer to my writing as lovely. I don’t want the beautiful language to just take over. That’s why I often try to plug in some coarse dialogue to shake myself up.”

Tragedy and humor

Her three novels have all been quite tragic with a touch of humor.

“I think humor is necessary,” she said. “You can’t look so closely at life and not see the various forms of absurdity. We need to sometimes see things as comic to make them believable. Some of the humor eventually gets cut out in later drafts because what seemed funny when I was alone in an empty room writing for ten hours doesn’t always seem as funny days later.”

For more information on Nicole Kauss’ appearance, contact the New York State Writers Institute at 442-5620.

Categories: Life and Arts

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