CAREER: Ford Motor Company, Detroit, MI, worked in production development for three years; accident reconstructionist and forensic engineer, Denver, CO.
AWARDS, HONORS: Michener fellowship, 2001.
In the Electric Eden (short stories), Penguin (New York, NY) 2003.
Articles of War (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to American Heritage of Invention and Technology. Contributor to periodicals, including Black Warrior Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist and short-story writer Nick Arvin began his professional life as an engineer. But after three years as a truck-frame designer his love of writing won out and he returned to school again, this time to earn his M.F.A. from the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop. He has published the story collection In the Electric Eden and the novel Articles of War.
Arvin's In the Electric Eden is a collection of short stories examining the interaction between humans and the technologies they have created, from electric power to cell phones. The stories also examine human relationships and how technology affects those relationships. This unifying theme makes In the Electric Eden a "cleverly conceived" collection, in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor who added that Arvin "strikes a rich cultural vein" with his topic. The collection opens with "In the Electric Eden," based on the true story of the intentional electrocution of a man-killing elephant on Coney Island in 1903. Subsequent stories include "The Prototype," about a man who resorts to theft to try to win back his ex-girlfriend, and "What They Teach You in Engineering School," about the dysfunctional relationships between a father and his two adult sons. "Arvin respects his characters and pulls no punches," Stephanie Perry wrote on the Steph's Book Reviews Web site, "faithfully recounting their failings and missteps in a way that renders them utterly geunuine and solid." A Kirkus Reviews contributor also praised Arvin's grasp of the human, commenting, "While Arvin's prose often centers on the inner workings of things on the near-mechanical level … the emotions are always real, enlivened by the context that gives them life and shape."
Arvin's novel Articles of War "is an elegant, understated testament to the stoicism, accidental cowardice and occasional heroics of men under fire," explained a Publishers Weekly contributor. Set during the American invasion of France during World War II, Articles of War is about an eighteen-year-old soldier, a wholesome Iowa farm boy named George Tilson but nicknamed "Heck" by his platoon-mates because he never swears. George is neither over-bright nor a hero-in-the-making; he just wants to survive and not give in to the impulse to run away. The story is framed by the real-life story of another, similar soldier, Private Eddie D. Slovik, who was shot by a firing squad for deserting the U.S. Army in France—the first such execution of an American soldier in over three-quarters of a century.
Reviewers generally praised Arvin's depiction of the realities of war for its foot soldiers. He "is at his best describing the odd vagueness of combat, where nothing is clear-cut except death," thought Newsweek critic Malcolm Jones. A Kirkus Reviews contributor found Articles of War to be "vividly told," while New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin noted that Arvin "delivers a palpable sense of destruction." Several critics also commented about the applicability of the book's message about war to current events. "I wrote most of the book prior to September 11, 2001," Arvin explained to Interview contributor Carolyn Murnick, "but if it causes people to think about the current war in Iraq in a more specific and visceral way, then that's a good thing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of In the Electric Eden, p. 846; November 15, 2004, Michele Leber, review of Articles of War, p. 551.
Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Articles of War, p. 81.
Interview, February, 2005, Carolyn Murnick, interview with Arvin, p. 74.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of In the Electric Eden, p. 1720; December 1, 2004, review of Articles of War, p. 1099.
Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Robert Conroy, review of Articles of War, p. 93.
Newsweek, February 28, 2005, Malcolm Jones, "The Not-So-Good War: Two Novelists Revisit the Last Days of World War II, and Bring Back Surprisingly Different Tales to Tell," review of Articles of War, p. 62.
New York Times, February 17, 2005, Janet Maslin, "Fresh out of the Cornfields and into the Hell of War," review of Articles of War, p. E9.
Publishers Weekly, December 23, 2002, review of In the Electric Eden, p. 46; November 1, 2004, review of Articles of War, p. 40.
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (July, 2004), Randy Schaub, review of In the Electric Eden.
Lighthouse Writers Workshop Web site, http://www.lighthousewriters.com/ (March 4, 2005), "Nick Arvin, M.F.A."
Nick Arvin Home Page, http://home.earthlink.net/∼nickarvin (March 4, 2005).
Penguin Group Web site, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (March 4, 2005).
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 4, 2005).