Imagine yourself working as a bartender, serving a screenwriting customer you slightly know and ask him to take a look at the finished manuscript you worked on for the past year. The screenwriter passes it on to a befriended musician, who at his turn hands it to a former bandmate who now works as a literary agent. Two years later that same agent calls you to offer you a publishing deal. Sounds like heaven? Yes, it does, but this is also exactly how it rolled in real life for the now celebrated novelist Patrick deWitt (Vancouver Island, Canada, 1975).
Dropped out of school before graduating, drinking and doing drugs, it’s all part of deWitt’s history. He didn’t have a formal ‘creative writing’ education, but he did inherit an everlasting passion for literature from his parents. While working as a bartender, his perseverance and determination eventually led this autodidact to write his first novel Ablutions (2009). All the good fortune deWitt had, still gives him the chills: “The degree of luck involved in that story of those three people [the screenwriter, musician and literary agent] lining up like that makes me uncomfortable to this day because it seems so tenuous”, deWitt told in an interview in 2015.
Despite good reviews, Ablutions didn’t sell well. However, the bad start vanished in a puff of smoke when his second book The Sisters Brothers came out in 2011. This darkly comic novel is set in the 1850s Californian Gold Rush and tells the story of the brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters bounded by blood, violence and love. It got shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and has been adapted as a film in 2018. Longlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, deWitt’s third novel and coming-of-age story Undermajordomo Minor (2015) matched the success of its predecessor.
The spectrum of deWitt’s books goes from pitch black to snow white with a writing style that’s focused on beautifully constructed words and sentences with an idiosyncratic vocabulary. deWitt is fascinated by the way humans express themselves through dialogues: “You can show so much about a person from what he shares and obscures.” Next to that, he isn’t interested in alpha characters, but in strange and unkind people, as can be noticed in his latest novel French Exit (2018). A book about a wealthy 60-something widow from New York and her adult son who flee to Paris because of the insolvency caused by her extravagant lifestyle.
Patrick deWitt now lives and works in Portland, Oregon, USA.