Thomas Clerc wrote, and Jeffrey Zuckerman translated from the French, a novel called “Interior” that consists entirely of the narrator, whose name we never learn, reporting in acute detail about his apartment in Paris. It didn’t sound like a viable story premise to me — and, indeed, there is no story arc, no plot, no obvious conflict, not even another character. Just a single man, who, it becomes increasingly clear, is intricately conflicted about his life choices and values, as we learn the history of this particular coffee coaster or how that dinner plate acquired the chip in its side or why the awkward thumping of his ceiling fan is two parts infuriating, two parts essential to the narrator’s well being.
But something unexpected happened as I read on.
One third of the way through “Interior,” which was less than a third of the way through the narrator’s living space, I began to see the point. The home is the main character of this story, not its occupant.
I’m sure Clerc’s intention was not to write a stealth commentary about the colossal housing crisis in America, Seattle specifically, but the message is this: Home is vital to the story. Nothing in the book could happen without Home and, while the narrator expresses regret, confusion and even a desire to throw out some of his possessions at various points throughout the book, it is clear that he would not be who he is without a place for himself – that is, without Home. Perhaps his name is not revealed to highlight how often we prioritize material belongings above human beings, even ourselves.
This is the beauty — and necessity — of art. From the climate debate, to the conservative attempt to tie immigration to crime, to countless other arguments, facts usually don’t change minds. It doesn’t mean they don’t matter, but they are not what will move people to act. Art — paintings, music, stories — might. “Interior” is not just an avalanche of details about an unnamed stranger’s cramped living space in France; it’s about how central having a space to belong to is to the well-being of every human, and an unassuming critique of our failure to address the housing crises that afflict our great modern cities. Clerc methodically shows us how we depend on our homes — to both survive and thrive.
Megan Wildhood is a contributing writer for Real Change, advocate in the mental health community, published poet and essayist living in Seattle.
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