ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171-0002.
CAREER: Poet and writer.
Man Walks into a Room, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor of poetry and reviews to literary journals and other periodicals, including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Doubletake, New York Times, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and Partisan Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Nicole Krauss was an accomplished poet before she wrote her first novel, and in an online interview on Random House's Bold Type she said, "For a long time I only wanted to write poetry. But it's hard-a hard life, I mean. There's that thing Auden said, about how a poet only believes himself to be a poet at the moment when he is making his last revision to a new poem. 'The moment before, he was still only a potential poet: the moment after he is a man who has ceased to write poetry, perhaps forever.' With a novel it's somehow easier: the duration of the writing is so much longer, and the unhappiness of the in-between less frequent."
Krauss got the idea for her debut novel, Man Walks into a Room, from a news story she read about a man who left his office one day and was found several states away with no memory of who he was. The man had a brain tumor, and when it was removed, his memory returned. In Krauss's story, the man, Samson Greene, is a thirty-six-year-old professor of English at Columbia University. He is married to Anna, and has a dog named Frank. When Samson is discovered wandering around the Las Vegas desert, he doesn't even remember his own name. Anna brings him back to New York, and the benign tumor is removed, but in Samson's case, along with the tumor, he is relieved of all memory except for the first twelve years of his life. He can remember his mother and growing up in California, but twenty-four years are gone.
The lonely Samson, now unable to relate to his wife, friends, and colleagues, willingly takes part in an experiment that requires that he return to Nevada. The memories of another person, an elderly, eccentric man named Donald, are grafted into Samson's mind. But Donald's new memories of nuclear testing are disturbing. Samson also becomes driven to find the burial place of his mother, which he now cannot remember, and he liberates his senile Uncle Max from a nursing home to help him.
The Bold Type interviewer noted the "acute detail" in those parts of the story that deal with Samson's amnesia, neurological science, and the nuclear testing of the 1950s, and asked Krauss about her research in writing the novel. Krauss noted that her father is a surgeon who was able to put her in touch with a pathologist and a neurologist who provided answers to her questions. She also corresponded with former soldiers who were stationed at Desert Rock during the nuclear testing, who were able to provide her with details. Krauss also said she read the writings of Oliver Sacks. "I was interested in the idea—one that seems to be at the heart of much of his work—of the adaptability of the brain, of its need, above all, 'to construct a coherent self and world,' whatever disorders befall it. I think we all see the world so radically differently from each other, that we construct ways of being and modes of perception that allow us to survive given our particular brain. The knowledge that this is our own construction—and therefore singular to us—is part of what makes us feel so alone." Krauss concluded the interview by saying that Man Walks into a Room is "about a man who becomes disengaged, and who—after a lot of loneliness and pain—relearns the difficult beauty of engagement. If I could reduce what matters to me most right now to a single word, it would be simply that: engagement."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Krauss "tells her strange story—a knotty combination of psychological novel and cautionary science-fiction tale—with considerable finesse, crafting graceful compound-complex sentences charged with understated emotion." The reviewer called the characters Donald and Uncle Max "memorable."
"Krauss has written a wonderful debut," said Library Journal's Judith Kicinski, "full of shimmering sentences and real emotion." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that an outline of the story "suggests a somber tale full of dark symbolism, but in fact it is surprisingly lighthearted, sharply observant, and often touching."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Man Walks into a Room, p. 360.
Library Journal, May 1, 2002, Judith Kicinski, review of Man Walks into a Room, p. 134.
Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of Man Walks into a Room, p. 69.
Bold Type,http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/ (May, 2002), interview.*