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Inner reaches: Talking with Carla Harryman 

Metro Times: It’s interesting how this novel’s structure fits with its topic of utopia. Things perpetually shift, rove and transform. For you, is moving existing boundaries a different activity than constructing new ones?

Carla Harryman: Yes. The reason the physical boundaries referenced in Gardener of Stars are two feet high is that the base is unstable by virtue of the manner in which the utopian desires are expressed. Just because the borders between one thing and another can always be transgressed, it doesn’t mean that the structure of transgressable borders equals justice, fairness, world peace, better people. The traditional utopian fantasy of protection and safety, of filling in the new boundaries that makes it protected space, is antithetical to the philosophical and literary drives of this novel. In Gardener, utopia is a drive and a hope, not a contained vision.

Metro Times: The language veerings are incredible. Are you conscious of tonal shifts?

Harryman: Well, I am generally conscious of modes of discourse, conversation, dialogue, rhythms of speech, shifts of registers. I hear them as tone. I have always been fascinated listening to children speak. A child can shift modes so quickly: “I’m not going to watch TV now, because I need to look up information on Japanese culture. Mom, can I have some ice cream?”

Often novelists have their ears out for stories. I have my ears open to the performance of speech, language, writing. I am usually conscious of hearing language tonalities, even philosophical language, before I make contact with its content, whether it’s spoken or written. This means that I am almost always, even if subliminally, practicing writing … there is always the potential transformation of a spoken utterance into written language in one’s own ears and mind — as writing, not as speech. And, conversely, I am very much drawn to the unsaid and underwritten — what wants to sabotage conventional surfaces.

Metro Times: How do you consider Gardener of Stars in the context of your previous works?

Harryman: Gardener may be the only work I will write that deals so directly with the question of utopia and utopian desire, even if that issue has come up in other works. On the other hand, this novel furthers the constellation of interests around language, desire, sexuality, and the culture of childhood and adulthood that motivates much of my writing.

Lynn Crawford writes about books for Metro Times. E-mail her at


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