Credit: Jorge Colombo
In John Haskell’s new novel, Out of My Skin, the narrator is a Los Angeles¬-based journalist who’s been assigned to do a piece about a Steve Martin impersonator. Strangely impressed by the man’s transformation, and the kind of charisma it seems to lend him, the narrator decides to adopt Steve Martin’s manner and looks for himself and start living his life as Steve would–which he does, with curious results. It’s a comic, hypnotic Hollywood novel, a Cali-surreal read we quite enjoyed, so we decided to ask Haskell a few questions about it.
What was the impetus for Out of My Skin?
At one point I wanted to be a journalist. This was years ago, and I was living (or visiting) Los Angeles. I found an ad in a paper for a Marilyn Monroe look-alike so I called her, told her I wanted to do a story about her, and although she doesn’t appear in the book, and although she isn’t the sole impetus for the book, she was part of the inception, way back when.
What’s your favorite Steve Martin movie?
Although, in the book, I do talk about one of his movies (Roxanne), and although I think he can be a wonderful physical comedian (in All of Me for instance), I’m more interested in the idea of Steve Martin than the real guy. That normal, thoughtful, rational persona is a template, and the template is actually closer to Cary Grant. In the book I talk about William Holden being a kind of Everyman, and anyway, it really doesn’t matter where the template comes from because whoever we think of when we think of Cary Grant or Steve Martin, it’s our own construction, our own idea of what a normal thoughtful protagonist would be.
You have a rather distinctive authorial voice. Is there a way you describe it?
In a word, no. The writing I like feels (and sounds) as if it’s based on some necessity, and when I write it’s because there’s a need, in me, to say something. I don’t necessarily know what that need is, but that’s the beginning. In the book, the authorial voice is just the character’s voice, honestly noting what needs to be noted, and paying attention to the world as it passes by. That view is personal and idiosyncratic, and although it can seem a little strange, it’s necessary.
Do you count any other authors as influences?
Every author is an influence. I love writers who can think on a page, whose writing is so alive, word by word and moment by moment, that, not only does the language seem to actually be living, but the objects in the imagined world are also living. And the story itself comes alive. But to answer your question, yes, and the first three books that come to my mind are Disgrace by Coetzee, The Road by McCarthy, and The White Album, or really anything, by Didion. I could also mention Kundera, for what he used to do, and Dickens and Chekhov and the list could just go on…
Now that you’re living out there, what’s been your own most surreal L.A. moment?
I did talk to a coyote recently, although I don’t think it was interested in talking back to me.