John Wray [ USA ]
John Wray was born in Washington D.C. in 1971. Son of a Californian father and an Austrian mother, he grew up on Buffalo, New York and in Friesach, a small town in Carinthia, Austria. He gained a degree in biology from Oberlin College, Ohio. He then went on to take various jobs including driving a taxi in Alaska and teaching German and Spanish in Manhattan.
Time and again, though, he was drawn to writing. His début novel, »The right hand of sleep« (2001), which is set in an Austrian mountain town during the Nazi occupation, proved to be his breakthrough as an author. The strength of the book, an anti-heimatroman, lies in the representation of its characters, who are themselves in doubt as to whether their actions are good or evil. Wray’s virtuosity is particularly noticeable in the way he jumps between passages written from the perspective of a third-person narrator and those written in the voices of his protagonists.
The author again makes use of literary montage in his second novel, »Canaan’s Tongue« (2005) where he refines it further. In a mixture of first-person narrative, diary entries, letters, citations and reports by criminal investigations, Wray moves even further into the past, to the time of the American Civil War. He adapts the legend of the gangster and notoriously criminal preacher, John Murrell, who also appears in Mark Twain’s »Life on the Mississippi«. Wray’s character, called Thaddeus Morelle, pulls the strings in a slave trading network which eventually involves a number of previously respectable citizens. After Morelle’s murder, the remaining members of his gang hide out on an island in the Mississippi where they recount the ways in which they became caught up in the slave-trading web. The novel’s gloomy, violence-laden atmosphere, reminiscent of Poe and at times of Faulkner, revisits the theme of moral uncertainty, with elements of the irrational, in the form of belief, lending weight to the tale. In his latest novel, »Lowboy« (2009), irrationality in its pathological form becomes a theme in itself. The main character is the 16-year-old Will Heller, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He escapes from an asylum into the subway tunnels of New York fixated on his purpose, which is to prevent the immediately imminent destruction of the world due to global warming. Together, Will’s mother and a police detective undertake the search for the boy. In the book, Wray springs ably between psychological realities and plumbs the narrative potential of schizophrenia. Wray was awarded the American Academy’s Rome Prize and a Whiting Writer’s Award for his first novel. The author lives in Brooklyn.
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