When I was a lonely teenager the local library was a sanctuary for me—there was one librarian in particular who linked me with public creative writing programs and offered to read stories I’d written...now that I’ve worked in libraries and know how busy librarians are, I’m especially grateful that she took the time to read my writing—it was above and beyond.
I was thrilled by Micah Nemerever’s debut novel These Violent Delights and am so pleased to introduce him to Off the Shelf readers! This fresh thriller is hailed as The Secret History (Donna Tartt) meets Call Me by Your Name (Andre Aciman). As a huge fan of Donna Tartt’s first novel, I was drawn to another suspense story of collegiate angst, obsession, and the potential for murder. Though there are indeed similarities between the two, Nemerever’s tale shredded my soul unlike any book I’ve ever read—and did so with incredible finesse. These Violent Delights (TVD) is both a brutal thriller and an obsessive love story about two collegiate young men, Paul and Julian, who meet, ironically, during a conversation about ethics. Paul is a self-loathing misfit while Julian is a social golden boy. Their infatuation with one another is compulsive and destructive and as their relationship progresses so too do their proclivities for violence. Where does it all end? With a background in queer identity, gender anxiety, and art history, Nemerever offers a rare examination of toxic masculinity, white male privilege, and the desperation of young love.
I recently caught up with Nemerever on Instagram and our conversation blossomed into the insightful exchange that follows. He responded gamely to my questions and displayed a singular willingness among first time authors to pull back the curtain on the disciplines and authors that influenced his writing. In further generosity, he details a plot clue hidden in the title and reveals an important connection to the public library in his own past history.
Off the Shelf (OtS): Thank you so much for chatting with the Brooklyn Public Library! Let’s jump right in. Prior to publishing your first book, your training was in art history and queer / gender identity. Did these studies influence These Violent Delights?
Micah Nemerever (MN): Thank you so much for having me! Absolutely. I’ve always been a very visual thinker, and studying art history gave me an attention to visual detail that has affected how I situate a story in its physical setting. It also led me to read a lot of philosophy and psychology—that was a massive influence on TVD, which engages a lot with both those disciplines. I haven’t drawn on my gender studies research quite as directly in this book, but I think it’s going to have a lifelong effect on my writing. It gave me the tools to analyze gender norms across contexts, and I’m always fascinated by characters trying to negotiate those norms from a position of not fitting in.
OtS: How did writing from the perspective of two collegiate queer young men affect your examination of toxic masculinity and white male privilege?
MN: The relationship between masculine gender norms and queer male identity was a theme I was really keen to explore in TVD. Neither Paul nor Julian is especially traditionally masculine, and they have different, very complicated relationships with the idea of masculinity; ultimately both of them resent it. So the manifestation of toxic masculinity for them—especially in relation to each other—is that both boys are incredibly resistant to being vulnerable. Neither of them is comfortable with the way that love opens you up to the possibility of pain, and they each fight tooth and nail to keep the other from recognizing their vulnerability. Paul in particular tries to turn his every negative emotion into anger, because that’s the only emotion he perceives as being able to protect him. Machismo isn’t important to either character, but neither of them can stand to show weakness. I think it’s something they’ve internalized without realizing it.
OtS: Your title gives a nod to Shakespeare’s ill-fated romance between Romeo and Juliet. What message are you sending your readers?
MN: I honestly love the title, because the full Shakespeare quote—and this turn of phrase in particular—operate at an almost operatic level of intensity. It feels very adolescent to me, in keeping with the kind of obsessive, unhealthy first love that you see in different ways in both Romeo and Juliet and in Julian and Paul. Even if the reader isn’t familiar with the original quote, I hope the title will still signal the kind of love story it is. And if they do happen to know the reference, the rest of the quote gives them even more of an indication of what to expect. “These violent delights have violent ends.”
OtS: In addition to Shakespeare, what authors have most influenced your writing?
MN: Every story I write has a different set of influences, but there are commonalities across all of them. No one writes claustrophobic loneliness as well as Shirley Jackson—she probably has my favorite body of work of any writer. I also love Michael Chabon for his melancholia and lived-in details, and above all his deeply-felt engagement with what it means to be Jewish in America.
TVD specifically has a lot of older books in its DNA, because it’s sort of an old-fashioned story in many ways. One major influence was Wuthering Heights, which was my favorite book when I was about the boys’ age. Other key books for me were The Picture of Dorian Gray, Brideshead Revisited, Franny and Zooey, even Rebecca a little bit—and of course a lot of Patricia Highsmith, especially The Talented Mr. Ripley. What they all have in common, I think, is that they operate at a level of intensity that I wanted to emulate.
OtS: How does it feel to have your debut novel be compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and how does your story differ?
MN: I read The Secret History for the first time when I was about midway through TVD’s first draft, and I was fascinated by the way Donna Tartt approached some similar themes from a different perspective. I think TVD is more explicitly concerned with privilege. The characters in The Secret History are privileged by their elite education, and several of them by their class backgrounds, but that story is by design very internal to the characters’ minds and personal dynamics, so it doesn’t really situate their privilege and entitlement in a wider social context. I was really interested in how TVD’s story fit into its historical moment, and in the external consequences to the privilege Paul and Julian have—in that way it’s a very different kind of story. I also wanted the characters’ queer identity to be front and center—there are queer characters in The Secret History, but their queerness is more incidental to the story because the book is concerned with other things. But the two books are also very much in dialogue, and both revolve around insular intellectual friendships where love and intimacy are inextricable from obsession. I love The Secret History and am really happy for the relationship between the two books to expand into a wider conversation.
OtS: Did writing this story energize or exhaust you?
MN: A little of both. TVD was a cathartic book to write, and it was a story I needed to tell—I worked on it obsessively for years on end, and it was often exhilarating. But Paul’s point of view is obviously intense. He is profoundly, relentlessly unhappy, and being inside his head for a solid five or six years was pretty exhausting. I did have to take breaks periodically to get my head on straight again, though I always came back to the project quickly.
OtS: Were you surprised by any of the outcomes of your story? Or was it all mapped out before you began?
MN: There was a rough outline for the first 80% of the book or so, but it took me a long time to understand how the story needed to end. I had a lot of different ending ideas, none of which felt quite right, so I just kept writing to the outline I did have, and hoping (perhaps foolishly) that the right ending would come to me once I needed it. It did, luckily, or I’d probably still be writing. As it is, I can’t imagine the book ending any other way.
OtS: What does someone read after writing their debut novel?
MN: The first book I read after turning in final edits was My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. It was the first novel for adults that I read as a young person, and it was really interesting to revisit the book as an adult and remember what an impact it had on me—how formative it was for me in terms of the kinds of stories I want to tell, and how I want to tell them. It helped center me after the overwhelming experience of publishing my own book. And it’s just a stunning work of art that I admire profoundly.
OtS: You’ve mentioned a number of great books throughout this interview. You’re clearly an avid reader! So, I have to ask, did the library play an important role in your life?
MN: The library has meant many different things to me over the years, and it’s always been important. As an adult, I love the versatile resources the library provides, and how hard librarians work every day to make information and literature more accessible for all. And when I was a lonely teenager the local library was a sanctuary for me—there was one librarian in particular who linked me with public creative writing programs and offered to read stories I’d written, and she encouraged me so much as a young writer. Now that I’ve worked in libraries and know how busy librarians are, I’m especially grateful that she took the time to read my writing—it was above and beyond, and I’m so grateful to her.
OtS: I am very excited to say that Brooklynites can now find TVD in our collection. As a child, did you ever hope to find a book of your own on the shelves?
MN: Libraries have always been incredibly important to me, as both a reader and a writer, so it really was a dream of mine from an early age to be able to see my book on a library shelf. I was a bookish child, unsurprisingly—I loved when recess got rained out because it meant I could go to the library instead of the playground. (The school librarian was very patient and supportive, bless her.) Then as an adult I worked for a while in fiction acquisitions at a public library, where I definitely remember daydreaming about someday seeing something I’d written placed on a New Fiction display.
I haven’t been able to visit a library due to the pandemic, but one of the first things I plan to do is drop by a public library and visit the “N” shelves in the fiction section. I know I’m going to tear up a little bit.
Liza is an archivist-turned-librarian living in Brooklyn with her pup and husband. She enjoys foraging for new books, unearthing forgotten Brooklyn history (especially the weird bits), and arranging her personal library by color.
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