Shacochis' new novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, fuses his narrative versatility and his deep understanding of multiple cultures into what Robert Olen Butler calls hismagnum opus. Its suspense revolves around the murder in Haiti of stunningly beautiful Jackie Scott, but before its far-reaching web of interactions ends, it brilliantly unveils the darker regions of human sexuality, evoked inside a historical build-up of international political deceit—deceit with present-day consequences. They are realistic consequences, in fact, that have arguably landed on the doorstep of America in 2013.
JEFFREY HILLARD: So Grove Atlantic is publishing your first novel since Swimming in a Volcano in '93. How does it feel to be back with your second novel?
BOB SHACOCHIS: I don't know. What is the range of feelings that are available?
HILLARD: You wrote a lot of nonfiction in the past 20 years, with a definitive non-fiction book in 1999, The Immaculate Invasion. How did you juggle the non-fiction and your work on the Woman Who Lost Her Soul?
SHACOCHIS: There was no juggling. When one projected ended, the other one began. Since I started working on this novel in 2002, I turned down most of the non-fiction work that was offered to me—including covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I guess I would have liked to have done, simply because of the significance of those events. I had already been in two earlier war zones; so going to war was not exactly an original or exotic experience for me. I was devoted to getting the book done and I knew I would never get it done if I kept running around the world. Also, domestic problems kept me at home. Most of my non-fiction involves overseas travel and I couldn't do that because my parents were very ill—terminally ill—and my wife became very sick as well. There were numerous other domestic responsibilities that kept me in my fiction-writing chair.
HILLARD: How does it feel to be back with your second novel?
SHACOHIS: I don't know. In some ways it's business as usual and that's great. I'm asked all the time, "Doesn't it feel great to finish the novel?" And the answer to that is, "No." It's sort of a loss to stop a 10-year project, which is an imaginary project in the sense that it's a work of my imagination. The people who I've lived with for 10 years in my imagination are now sort of defunct. To lose them is rather a mournful process—it's not a relief. On some show the other day, I was listening to Daniel Day-Lewis talk about his work and channeling Lincoln for Spielberg's movie. He immersed himself in the character of Lincoln when he was working on the movie and, when the movie was over, he felt a great sense of grief in his disconnection and detachment back into his own character. That's how I felt with finishing this book. It's a sense of loss but at the same time it's a sense of long-awaited accomplishment—just finishing something.
HILLARD: At 34 you won the National Book Award in 1985 for First Work of Fiction.
SHACOCHIS: An award that no longer exists.
HILLARD: Right, but it's still a National Book Award. The spotlight expanded very quickly. John Irving was a major enthusiast of your work, even before the National Book Award. What was that time like when your star really rose, especially after that award?
SHACOCHIS: It was too long ago. I don't remember. [laughs] That was how many years ago? 30 years ago? I'm sure it was grand. Doors opened. Once Easy in the Islands came out, I got calls from editors from all the major magazines that I had lusted to work for since I was in journalism school in the early '70s at the University of Missouri. In that interim between getting a Bachelor of Journalism degree and finally getting magazine assignments, it seemed like I was doing the worst jobs out there. [I was] a copy boy at the Palm Beach Evening Times where I would tear the copy off the wire at four o'clock in the morning and spike it on an editor's...
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