Dead Interviews is a collection of fictional interviews conducted by current authors with famous folks who are dead. Rick Moody (The Ice Storm) raps with Jimi Hendrix, Rebecca Miller asks The Marquis de Sade some uncomfortable questions, Ian Rankin (the Inspector Rebus novels) compares notes with Arthur Conan Doyle, and so forth. Obviously, this is a fun idea – and not totally original, as Dan Crowe points out in his introduction. The idea has been around for awhile, because it’s a good one.
The danger for me was in not wanting to confuse real knowledge of an author with the imagined comments in these interviews. To avoid this, I only read the pieces involving folks I’m already familiar with — and of course this means I got all (or at least some) of the inside jokes. It’s hard to imagine enjoying Douglas Coupland’s interview with Andy Warhol if you don’t already have a strong impression of him, for instance. Since these are all top shelf writers, the ones I read really do capture an essence of their subject: Hendrix’s psychedelic POV is naturally extended up to his lofty “heavenly” perch, and the details in A.M. Homes’ Richard Nixon interview, like Nixon’s sniffles of discomfort and the ancient TV he’s kept (“I saw myself win on that and would you believe it still works”) are the most fun. A few of the authors create characters that conduct the interviews, but I think it works best when the author does it directly. It makes a lot of sense for Ian Rankin to talk shop with Arthur Conan Doyle, perhaps the greatest writer of his genre; you get a kind of two-for-one insight. Watching (hmm – of course, I read this, but it was so vivid, I thought “watch”) a coked-up Geoff Dyer bludgeon Nietzsche into owning his influence on the Nazis is a highlight.
This one is fun if you’re well-read (I read about half of it, so I’m semi-well-read), or a good gift if you want to make someone feel smart.