It has been over three-and-a-half years since Evan Dara published his third novel, Flee, which confirmed something that a small but steadfast circle of committed readers already understood: that Dara is as good as any living American novelist. In a career that spans roughly 22 years, he has only launched three titles, but each of them serve as high points of the decade in which they were released.
His debut, The Lost Scrapbook, came out in November 1995 under the daring shingle of FC2, just two months before David Foster Wallace gave us Infinite Jest. And it has dwelled in a tiny zipcode of IJ’s numinous shadow ever since. Indeed, the relationship between the two books has been cordial and symbiotic, with sources close to Wallace claiming that he often recommended TLS, which had already garnered blurbs from the likes of Richard Powers after winning the 12th annual FC2/Illinois State University National Fiction Competition, judged by William T. Vollmann. Other Wallace fans have frequently suggested The Lost Scrapbook to those who conquer Infinite Jest and find themselves seeking a comparable blend of inventive prose with a human center.
But while these two novels occupy the same rarefied air, representing the very best fiction produced in the 1990s, the subsequent paths of its authors bear little resemblance to each other. Wallace went on to become the voice of his generation while Dara stayed in the shadows, living under what seems to be a pseudonym while never granting an interview. Those who saw The End of the Tour, the movie adaptation of David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, saw a depiction of Wallace struggling to maintain a modicum of normalcy and bind his splintering sense of self during the promotional hurricane provoked by Infinite Jest. It’s an examination of the problem that obscure writers might wish for, to see if they can survive and tame the daunting wave pool of adulation and attention generated by a genuine work of art.
There is no evidence to suggest that similar offers were made to Evan Dara, or that agents seeking to capture lightning in a bottle ever came knocking. Like many other great novels, it received a brief burst of critical attention before being shunted aside by the next quarter’s arrival of important works. Yet, unlike most of those books, its author didn’t pack his car with books, pens, and clean underwear and motor towards the literary oases of the hinterlands, to read his words in a library in Louisville or a bookstore in Dubuque. Instead, he chose silence, exile, and cunning, for reasons that are both understandable and fascinating, forcing his work to speak for itself.
As someone who has read and re-read his novels over the past twenty years, I decided to establish the Evan Dara Affinity as a place to shine or re-direct a bit of light towards these three books (four if you count the recent Spanish translation of The Lost Scrapbook, El Cuaderno Perdido). We will see where this takes us.