Dowagiac author reads from his debut novelPublished 9:22am Thursday, November 12, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Round Oak Restaurant filled up Wednesday evening for a reading by 1997 Union High School graduate Anthony Squiers.
They snapped up every last copy of his debut novel, “Madness and Insanity,” which Tony dedicates to DUHS English teachers Rich and Teri Frantz “for making poets out of philistines. If it wasn’t for you, I would have never given two s– about literature.”
“The title could refer to what he drove me to when he was in my class,” Teri kidded. “Since then, he has grown into a wonderful writer.”
“I’m really happy with the turnout,” Tony said. “When we were sitting, having dinner, I was afraid nobody was going to show up. I think it’s good that we have this literary culture now in Dowagiac.”
“I don’t think I can underestimate the impact the Dogwood festival had on me,” he said. “I really liked Shelby Foote because I’m interested in history. I saw Vonnegut. That was a big deal. I got to hang out with Jeffrey Eugenides when he came. That was amazing because it’s not every day you get to hang out with somebody who just won the Pulitzer Prize. We talked about Saul Bellow.”
Squiers, who lives in Portage, was joined by another author, Michael Collins, who provided the cover blurb pronouncing it brilliant, candid, glib, funny and insightful.
Collins has finished his follow-up to “Death of a Writer,” which will be published in April 2010.
“We’ll have to have a ‘read-off,’ ” quipped Collins, who moved to Dowagiac from Washington state to teach at Southwestern Michigan College.
Squiers was inspired to write Madness and Insanity while studying at the University of Manchester, which is where he was during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then he returned home and carried the Olympic torch with his twin brother, Aaron, for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Tony was joined by his parents. Tom Buszek is dean of Southwestern Michigan College’s Niles Area Campus in Milton Township.
Mom Bernadette’s back cover blurb that “Madness and Insanity” is “filthy and pornographic” elicits laughs.
Buszeks live north of town near Priest Lake.
Dr. Alan and Marty Montgomery reminisced with Tony about boyhood golf outings to Orchard Hills and a traveling league when he was 8.
Tony started reading at page 111 where his character Dave gets acquainted with Sunniva to a soundtrack of Charlie Parker saxophone.
“I had an idea when I was finishing my master’s degree where I thought, ‘What’s next?’ I didn’t know it was going to be this book, but I got it into my head that I would write a book,” Squiers said.
“I thought Manchester was a great place to set the book. I was familiar with it, for one, and it was a great city. The drugs were there, the music was there, women, Madness and Insanity, for good or ill. I didn’t want to write it from a British perspective because I didn’t feel I could pull that off. So if I was going to set it there, I had to make the character American. I couldn’t get the voice right otherwise. I didn’t know how it felt to be British in that city, but I did know how it felt to be an American” from Michigan.
“They are exotic places,” he continued, “though maybe not the kind we think about. When people think about the exotic UK, they’re thinking London. (Manchester) is a very proletarian city, a violent city, a dirty city” – sort of like Amsterdam, a “dodgy” place because of lax drug laws, illegal immigrants and prostitution.
“It’s capitalism,” he said. “They’re meeting demand. When I was there, wandering by myself, this guy came up to me on the small sidewalk and deliberately shoves me with his shoulder. He wanted a handout. I kept walking, but nine times out of 10, someone probably gives them money. He bumped into me on purpose, trying to shake me down.”
When he teaches politics classes, he assigns students to take a stance on whether marijuana should be legalized.
“If you go to Amsterdam, it doesn’t stop there. People on the street offer you pills and cocaine. If legalizing marijuana in America means turning it into Amsterdam … That character had to go there because it is the quintessential stoner city.”
David’s quest ends around the idea of aava.
“The word means open in Finnish,” Squiers explained. “You can use it in the sense of opening a door or the store is open. But it also means the sea and the sky. I use it a bit metaphorically, in the sense that its pure potentiality stands in contrast to the Madness and Insanity.”
One poem he read was about Helsinki.
“I just spent four weeks there this summer on a European tour,” he said. “The guy on the cover is a friend of mine from Finland. The Mikko character is based on him. There was also an exchange student we had in high school from Finland. It just seemed to be such an obscure place to be from, tucked way up north there by Russia.
“When I went there, it’s absolutely beautiful. The social system is one of the best in the world, although I’ve never been there in the dreary winter. In Helsinki, it’s starting to get dark at 3 o’clock in the afternoon now. The Arctic Circle goes through the top of Finland.”
Finland’s “people are really nice and the women are really beautiful. I really like Finnish women because they’re all super educated,” Tony said. “You get into a lot of good intellectual conversations. Even the workers, they all speak English and have things to say that I think are fairly insightful.”
Squiers will be wrapping up his doctorate in political theory in a couple of years and hopes to publish his dissertation on German playwright Bertolt Brecht as a book.
Next, he seems himself undertaking “master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing. I’m trying to make my career towards being an expert in the intersection of politics and literature.”
Tony has no idea what happens to David after “Madness and Insanity.”
“This character was very extreme, really wrapped up in that lifestyle,” he said. “It was starting to change. You could see indications of him changing, but I was like, how can you undergo such a dramatic change in the last couple of pages and make that seem authentic? But at least he realized there’s the potential for change in the character.
“To be honest, David was done at the end of that book. David’s a vehicle to get philosophical ideas out about aava and Madness and Insanity. I don’t know what happens to him. I really don’t. I don’t even really care. He recognizes aava and what that can mean. I didn’t have a clear idea where it was all going.”