Check out my interview with Jason Ockert on Wraparound South. Here is a tantalizing snippet:
Interview with Jason Ockert
Well before his first collection was published, Jason Ockert had already seen his work printed in some of the best literary magazines of our time: Oxford American, McSweeney’s, theIowa Review, and other publications that have paved the way for so many of our literary greats. It was therefore no real surprise that Ockert’s Rabbit Punches, which was lauded by critics as “riotously funny,” “quirky, unsettling, and full of unexpected turns,” would soon see a worthy follow up in Neighbors of Nothing, a story collection that Junot Diaz described as “beautiful, searching and generous,” and which earned the author a Shirley Jackson Fiction Award nomination. Now with Wasp Box, a novel forthcoming with Panhandler Books in Spring 2015, we are treated to a high-octane version of the witty, heartbreaking, and slightly absurd themes that earned Ockert his early reputation as “a writer to be watched.”
Wasp Box takes place in wine country, upstate New York, during an unusually hot summer. Two half-brothers, Hudson and Speck, are visiting Nolan, the older brother’s birth father. Hudson is trying to negotiate a relationship with a father he barely knows. Speck, Hudson’s younger half-brother is along for the vacation – and remains a complication in an already difficult situation. Unbeknownst to the boys and father, exotic killer wasps are breeding out of control only just yards away, and presenting a growing, deadly threat to the entire community.
Wasp Box spins an interesting angle on the coming-of-age story, one filled with memorable characters and bizarre dangers that are just as surreal as life often can be. It’s the kind of narrative that skirts between high-powered tension and what Saunders rightly termed “vulnerable kindness” – signature traits of Ockert’s impressive agility as a writer. The setup of a biological menace festering in the background as father and son negotiate each other’s moods adds layers of emotional fragility to the narrative. Brock Clarke, author of Exeley, has rightly described Wasp Box as an “unbelievably smart, tense, breakneck first novel…a book that is absolutely impossible to put down,” in part because the threat of the wasps is so hypnotically terrifying. However, the scarier peril is whether the sore and tender desires and longings that keep the family teetering between bliss and bane will see resolution or drone on in endless, poisoned buzzing.
Wasp Box is a thrilling debut that will no doubt soon garner lots of positive attention from readers and critics alike. It is that rare novel that manages to be profound while also being profoundly entertaining. In an early review, The Rumpus described Wasp Box as “horrific, beautiful, bizarre, poignant and mesmerizing,” as it “portrays families at their best and worst, strongest and weakest, closest and most distant. Above all, it offers a portrait of the resilience and reliance necessary to survive.”
We are excited that Jason Ockert decided to talk to us about Wasp Box. In this interview, the author discusses his inspiration for the novel, his interest in family themes, his mentors, the memories and moments that served as crucial sparks for the novel and more.
Laura Valeri: First of all, let me congratulate you for yet another great work of fiction. Wasp Box, is an eminently nail-biting narrative, emotionally layered and deftly composed. Tell me how the story of the killer wasps found its way into this family drama? What inspired this idea?