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Stellar novelist to read debut ‘Necessary Errors’ at Brandeis

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.


Caleb Crain is the author of “Necessary Errors,” a novel that received stellar reviews from The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and others. This novel was actually Crain’s debut, due to a career Crain himself describes as “like a ride on the F train when it’s going over the A line because of construction. I knew where I was going, but a lot of people who saw me going through their station were confused.” Crain, who is a friend of John Plotz (the English Department chair and professor at Brandeis), will be hosting a reading at Brandeis on Wednesday, April 2.

Crain will read a section from “Necessary Errors,” which The New Yorker claims is a piece that “heralds the fiction debut of a writer with intelligence and an engaging prose style … the book also serves as a document of a unique cultural moment that has vanished.” The Los Angeles Review of Books calls it “one of the best American novels of the past decade.” Crain can describe his novel in one word: “youth.”

“Literally, the novel is about the friendships and love affairs that a young gay man has in Prague a year or so after the Velvet Revolution. It’s about being between childhood and adulthood, between Communism and capitalism, between straight and gay, between friendship and love,” Crain said in an interview with The Hoot this week.

Crain was inspired to pen his novel after reading works by other authors, such as “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood, “A Legacy” by Sybille Bedford and “The Ambassadors” by Henry James.

Crain faced many challenges when writing “Necessary Errors.” “During the five years of writing, I shared the manuscript with only two people, and even with them, parsimoniously,” said Crain. “I knew that many readers would find the finished book too quiet and a bit peculiar, and it was hard to continue to believe it was sane to persist in an effort that was so slow and invisible and might be fruitless.”

For others interested in undertaking a similar writing journey, Crain has one significant piece of advice: “Keep a journal.”

Crain is looking forward to the reading at Brandeis on Wednesday. “I hope new readers will find the book because of it, and I hope to meet and hear from some students,” Crain said.
Crain and Plotz were friends as undergraduates, when they attended the same college. Plotz visited Prague before Crain did, and encouraged Crain to visit the city. Eventually, Crain set his novel in the same location.

“It’s great to be back in touch with him,” said Crain about Plotz. “We worked together on a college literary magazine, as part of a circle of fairly intense young people, many of whom are now professors, journalists and other kinds of writers.”

As stated, Crain walked a very winding path that eventually led him to write “Necessary Errors.”

“After college, I got a Ph.D. in early American literature. Then I left academia for a job as a magazine editor. Then I quit the editorial job to write journalism. Then I signed a contract to write a book of history—which I never wrote. And somehow I ended up writing essays about American history for The New Yorker and a few other magazines. During all this wandering, my secret wish was to write novels, and in fact I was writing them, though they weren’t any good. ‘Necessary Errors’ is my fourth or fifth first novel, as it happens,” said Crain.

Crain’s reading will be held on April 2 in the Shapiro Admissions Presentation Room at 5 p.m. The reading will be followed by an interview with Plotz. There will also be a drawing, where some copies of Crain’s novel will be given out to members of the audience. Crain will also sign copies of his book.