review + interview /// Freight by Mel Bosworth

Posted By jatyler - 9th September 2011

Freight is a novel of recounted stories that amounts to a study of (and search for) love and a philosophy of life. Reveling in anecdotes and casual regrets, Freight opens itself up to be a complex fiction, to be a book about memories and existence and meaning, to be more than just a novel.

First let’s talk about the meaning of the word ‘freight’ – how do you define it, how does the book define it, and what makes this word so potent and important for your novel?

I define ‘freight’ as cargo, which is a pretty standard definition, I think, and the book’s definition isn’t much different, only more expanded. The book’s definition is a better catch-all definition in that it’s more inclusive of all things intangible, like thoughts and memories. For the book’s definition and my own, too, I suppose, ‘freight’ is pretty much anything we experience. ‘Freight’ can be a gesture, glance, feeling—something subjectively meaningful. ‘Freight’ is important for the novel because it’s the accumulation of everything important in the narrator’s life. ‘Freight’ is what he’s carrying but it’s also the path beneath his feet.

Freight is deeply concerned with love. There is a thematic insistence on it in the book, reminders cropping up in a variety of forms – some about the love for a girlfriend, some about the love for family, and some philosophizing about the act in and of itself:

No one wants to be an enabler, though sometimes love gets in the way.

Or:

So maybe it’s best to love things for what they are, or let them go if we can’t afford to love them anymore.

Or:

I loved that it was over.

I loved that I was safe.

I loved that I was home.

Is Freight a love story? A romance? A calling to some kind of love?

Freight is a love story, though mostly the unrequited variety or the just-didn’t-work-out variety. And yes, it is a calling to love, too, a calling to self-love, mostly, to be comfortable and clear in your own skin, your own home.

Freight is also full of stories that sound so genuine and so real, we wonder if they came from the author’s personal experience. For example, this story:

I destroyed two baby birds when I was a kid. I shot them with a BB gun. I’d killed their mother, a black-capped chickadee, or at least I thought I’d killed their mother. My father was disappointed in me when I told him I killed their mother, so he said “Since you killed their mother, you have to kill them too”

Maybe he didn’t tell me to kill the babies, though. I could be wrong. It’s not uncommon.

I was young and fat then. I wore jeans called “Huskies” that my mother bought for me.

Did you kill a bird with a BB gun? Were you a ‘husky’ kid? How much of Freight is a part of your own personal life?

I’ve killed some things in my life, both intentionally and accidentally, some animals, probably a bird or two, and I’ve never walked away feeling good about it. These days I try to be kind to the creatures out there, though sometimes I’m a real jerk to spiders and bees. It’s true that a lot of Freight comes from my own personal life. Even the pure fictions in the book are rooted in some kind of personal truth. I think that’s fair to say about any piece of writing, that even the tallest of tales grow from the precious seeds we keep in our pockets. I’m not sure what that means to ‘fiction’ as a category, but the armor on anything wears thin if you rub it long enough. The knees on a pair of husky jeans, however, won’t wear thin no matter how long you rub them. I know that from experience.

And if we are talking about places where Freight takes some of its cues, there are quite a few parallels between this novel and other classic or contemporary books. For example, like Holden in The Catcher in the Rye your narrator smashes a car’s window because he ‘needed to say something’, and like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried an early chapter of Freight recounts the physical and metaphorical items that the narrator carries with him, including moments that he doesn’t want to carry but must because, as he says: ‘I think it’s important that I don’t forget.’ Does other literature pervade your thinking as you write, or are these instances an indication of a literary collective unconscious?

Great question, and I’d have to say that these particular instances are an indication of a literary collective unconscious, which is funny because I was thinking about this just the other day, not in terms of Freight, but just as an idea of a collective consciousness/unconscious as something that exists. Were you thinking about this, too? I think it’s fascinating, and I’m more than willing to drink that Kool-Aid. Ha. Seriously, though, while these examples weren’t at the forefront of my mind as I worked on Freight, other literature, stimuli, certainly influences how I move throughout my day, how I think at particular times. I was reading lots of indie lit while writing and revising Freight, and Robert Lopez’s Kamby Bolongo Mean River was very much rolling around in my head early on, and Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade kept my brain dancing during the later stages. For me it’s about latching on to something that resonates, something strong like a good cup of coffee or tea, a great line, a great voice, delivery. Freight took its cues from daily inspirations and the memories of them.

Freight also takes a leap from R. A. Montgomery’s ‘choose your own adventure’ books by presenting itself as both a straight-forward novel and a book with margin notes that allow a reader to skip back and forth across sections, following indicated page numbers. Can you talk to us about how this design came to be? And what do you think the difference would be for a reader who only reads Freight straight-through versus one who follows the notes to skip across pages of the book?

Being online as much as I am now, I’ve grown to appreciate hypertext and how it allows you to string thoughts together from different places, times, feelings, etc. I feel like hypertext is a good paradigm of how our brains work when processing certain memories or experiencing new things. Trains of thought derail all the time but, unlike actual trains of steel and diesel, they keep moving. They’re more like wormholes, sprouting new tunnels as needed. The margin notes are based on that idea of hypertext, of having the ability to jump back and forth, to explore connections great and small, and to glean a sense of the web-like nature of our existences. In an early PDF I sent along to the folks at Folded Word, blocks of text were bracketed and then footnoted. During the design process, they presented me with the idea of margin notes, and I immediately thought they were great. They really captured what I was trying to do, and felt less intrusive than the original setup. They’re easy, I think, to move between in the print edition because you can simply buzz the pages with your thumb, and they’ll be just as easy to navigate in the e-book because they’ll act as actual bits of hypertext. And as far as determining what the difference would be for readers moving straight through versus those bouncing around, I’m not really sure what would be different. I can only hope that readers find some enjoyment however they choose to digest the book.

And in general, speaking of production and design, how was it working with Folded Word, especially considering that Freight is this press’s first foray into full-length novels?

I’ve been dealing with Folded Word for a few years now, and they’ve always been great to work with. They gave me my first chapbook in 2009, and their work ethic and attention to detail is outstanding. However, that being said, I think both sides were pleasantly wowed with how well Freight came out. I sweated the words from my pores, Folded Word encouraged me through the revision process and then nailed down a great layout, and Brian Manley (our jacket designer) supplied the gorgeous wrapping paper. Everything clicked together perfectly, and as a first full-length novel for both me and Folded Word, I couldn’t be happier with the finished product. I’m certain they feel the same way, too.

Freight is a soothing kind of book, one that feels very much like telling stories around a dinner table, each new narrative attempting to outdo the last while the thematic through-line holds of its own easy accord. Mel Bosworth has asked his debut novel to be more than just a book – he has asked it to be an adventure and a memoir, a collection of stories and a glossary of being, and it all works wonderfully.

Buy this book here. Read more about / from Mel Bosworth here.