Gordon Haber has written what just might be the best fiction e-book single of the year so far. “False Economies,” which doesn’t hit a false note, centers on 24-year-old David Bergmann, a lovable loser of an American ex-pat adrift in London during the early Thatcher years. He’s marginally employed, lives in squalor, lacks any long-term ambition, and naturally falls for a slighter older woman with a young child. It’s definitely not the feel-good story of 2013 but it bristles with snap, strong characters and a powerful narrative drive. Anyone who’s had a few lost years will relate quickly to Bergmann’s plight. It’s easy to root for Bergmann to succeed. It’s easier to see why he fails. Thin Reads caught up with Haber and conducted this email interview to learn more about the story and what’s next in his hot fiction career.
Thin Reads: Why did you set your story in the early 1990's? What do you think was happening of significance in London at that time?
I spent a lot of time in London in the 90s. I did my junior year abroad there, and then I went back after college, and, like the main character of “False Economies,” I got a job as a bartender. After the authorities suggested that I leave -- I overstayed my work visa -- I went back to the U.S., but I visited London a half-dozen times during the 90s. Later, when I had a little more historical or political perspective, I realized that I had experienced London during a time of enormous change. Thatcher had completely transformed the economy and the culture, and I witnessed the tail end of that transformation. The Poll Tax fiasco, the shift from education grants to student loans, the rise in housing prices -- all of that affected my friends directly. So I used that time because I thought that I could write about it well, and the contradictions of Britain in the early 90s, the way that the welfare state was giving way to a form of rampant capitalism, made an interesting background for the problems of the main character. But I should add that in “False Economies,” it's just a background. There are characters who squat in abandoned houses, and there are characters who want material success. But the novella has no political agenda; it's just a story about a guy.
Thin Reads: Here's a cliched question but we've just got to ask it. What personality traits do you share with the exceptionally dysfunctional protagonist of the story David Bergmann? Let's face it -- if Bergmann was a duck he might not even be able to swim.
That's a fair question, but a tough one. Like Bergmann, I was an absolute mess in my 20s. I was clueless about adult life and terrible with money. I desperately envied my friends who had direction, whether they were musicians or in marketing. Also as I mentioned above, Bergmann's job was based on my own experiences working in a West End wine bar. But I don't know if he's me. I'd say there are aspects of the character that are similar to me, but I wouldn't call this an autobiographical story.
Thin Reads: Why did you choose to write this story as an e-book single? Frankly, we'd fork over another few extra bucks for a sequel where your boy Bergmann gets a little direction in his life and makes something of himself. Of course, he'd probably screw it up. We know Bergmann.
When I wrote “False Economies,” I started out trying to write a novel, but it found its own length. I don't want to seem too precious about it, but I do feel that my fiction is at its best when I let the piece be what it's supposed to be -- in this case a novella. The problem is that it's very hard to publish novellas, because (to state the obvious) they're too long for journals that like short stories and too short for publishers that like novels. But it was the perfect length for a Kindle Single, and they liked it, thank God. So I just got lucky, in that I found a way to get it out into the world. (One journal that publishes novellas rejected it in two days, which is probably a record.) After I wrote “False Economies,” I did write two more Bergmann stories, wherein he does indeed figure some things out and then screw them up. One takes place in New York and the third in Russia. I'm going to run them by my editor at Amazon.
Thin Reads: There was a lot of well-written sexual tension and sexual yearning in the story, but the sex scenes were completely G-rated. Assuming you agree with that assessment, what led to that decision? We thought you might unleash your inner Portnoy at some point.
You won't give me PG-13? In all seriousness, when it comes to the sex scenes, I was thinking, you know, character through action. You describe what characters do in bed in order to reveal an aspect of their lives. You try to make it a little tender and a little funny, and move on.
Thin Reads: What's next on the literary front for Gordon Haber? You're clearly ready for your close-up.
In terms of my fiction, it's been a good year: I had a story in the latest issue of The Normal School, and I have another one coming out in Jewish Fiction.net in the fall. This summer I plan to put the finishing touches on a story collection and also finish the third draft of an apocalyptic novel about the Jewish messiah. So I guess my plan could be summed up in two words: "keep writing."
Buy “False Economies” at: Amazon
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