Amity Gaige, a writer and close friend who met him at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, says that “the trauma of his youth in particular—it seems like such a given between us. We’re both grateful that we’re able to process life through writing, and we also agree that it doesn’t cure you. That’s something a young writer doesn’t understand.”
Haslett, who just turned 39, considers himself “more outward-looking” than he once was. He aims to combine the social concerns of the nineteenth-century novel with the psychological intensity of the Modernists. His ambition—a very different one from that of a caricaturist like Tom Wolfe—shows in Union Atlantic. From the earnest Fed president to the lost teen, the hallucinating teacher to the asshole banker, “all of the characters in the book are trying to find a kind of intimacy.” The financial and military messes of the aughts are not so much explained as felt.
Leave it to Franzen to decipher the way in which his acolyte tries to answer the harder questions, whether personal or political: “We’ve always talked about literature’s relation to politics and to therapy—how to keep writing in a culture that offers simpler and more direct ‘treatments’ of the ancient tragic ache. Becoming a writer is a way of becoming more fully a person. A way of surviving.”