King of Joy
Richard Chiem, Soft Skull Press
This is shaping up to be the breakout book for Seattle-based Chiem, whose first novel was named one of Publishers Weekly’s 10 Essential Books of the American West. In prose oft described as “inimitable,” Chiem tells the story of a woman working through her grief with a pornographer of “unconventional methods.” The LA Times says Chiem is a 2019 writer to watch: We agree.
King of Joy is part of our Spring 2019 Indie Book Picks.
Here’s a reading by author Richard Chiem:
Q&A with Chiem
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for the book, in particular the main character Corvus?
I started the King of Joy after watching Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012) for the first time, and I thought the movie was so incredibly stimulating as it showed me how style and atmosphere and tone could transcend form and become content and story. I knew once I had my main character, Corvus, someone with amazing capacity for emotion and survival, I knew I had my entire novel. Corvus is someone like me but much stronger, someone who becomes triumphant despite a great loss.
This is your debut novel, as You Private Person is a collection of short stories. Can you describe how your writing process differed for this book?
Writing this novel was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Although I love the craft of the short story, writing King of Joy pushed my ideas of what narrative can do for the reader over a longer form. There were more questions to ask, more truth to consider for each character. Like running or training for a marathon, I worked on the novel every day for almost three years until it felt like a perfect groove.
How does the novel tackle the subjects of grief and trauma and the physical world?
The novel shows how grief can be both a secret and a significant life pivot. Our bodies can move through life’s routine almost automatically despite loss and trauma, and yet we continue to witness the world. The novel shows how strange and surreal survival can be manifested, before and after the threshold of trauma. It shows the will to live.
How do dreams, stream of consciousness, and reality intersect in King of Joy?
The novel shows the beauty, the comfort, and the sometimes trap of daydreaming. Daydreaming is something I do sometimes to cope through depression or through a long bad day, and Corvus does the exact thing. All the worlds of consciousness, such as love, grief, and anxiety, are superimposed on each other in one vibrant intersection of story. All at once, all the time.
What’s next for Richard Chiem?
I am currently working on a revenge novel called Cave Me In about two women: Chloe Battles and Sarah Kush. I am also working on a new book of short stories called Mess You Up.