Footnotes and First Novels

Local Author Roger Boylan

In drama, as on the page, farce is the idea of taking something that is utterly serious and showing how ludicrous it can become. John Kennedy Toole used this approach with intelligence and wit in his novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Now, local writer Roger Boylan does the same with his first novel, Killoyle (Dalkey Archive Press, $13.95 paper), living up to the subtitle his publisher suggested - An Irish Farce.

I met with Boylan on a rainy day (not unlike those in Ireland) at the Spider House Cafe. Although he had just driven in from San Marcos (where he now lives with his five-year-old daughter and his wife, who teaches medieval history at Southwest Texas State University), Boylan has counted among his other residences Switzerland, France and, naturally, Ireland. When Boylan was young, his father worked in electronics for RCA as a "radio man," and the family moved around a great deal. Boylan attributes his literary bent to his mother, who worked as a stringer for various papers, reporting on women's issues and labor issues, later editing one of the United Nations' publications in Geneva. It was not until Boylan was about 26 that he began to pursue writing. "I had a half-assed idea that I was going to be a translator," he says, and indeed, he translated a few books from French into English.

Now 46 years old, Boylan has just published his first novel. "I'd been working on [Killoyle] for about two years in my spare time... working at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York as a tech writer," explains Boylan about the setting that left him undisturbed each day and surrounded by only computers. "I managed to get most of my work done by 10 in the morning. So, the rest of the time I was sitting there with my word processor." In fact, he wrote not one, but two novels during his two years there; the second has yet to be published.

"Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman... [is a] combination of penetrating realism and complete lunacy," says Boylan, talking about the inspiration for Killoyle and the fact that he was re-reading a lot of Beckett, "the early, more comprehensible Beckett." The idea for Killoyle was built around a character in a short story Boylan had written about 10 years earlier. "Basically, there was one character, Milo, and the other characters just grew out of him." The book is populated by the aforementioned Milo Rogers, a poet and writer, Milo's boss Emmet Power, Kathy Hickman, a writer for the trendy magazine Glam, and, most of all, the town of Killoyle.

In Killoyle, Boylan uses extensive footnotes, much as Woody Allen used a Greek chorus in Mighty Aphrodite, as a voice explaining and commenting on the action. As Boylan says, the footnotes play the part of a "drunken bore, someone full of themselves" in a "crowded bar" or in Boylan's case, a novel. The idea works, but only when fully embraced, with the reader taking time to read each footnote as it comes up in the story. So how did he approach the footnotes? "It was a kind of mental pause in the narration. While one side of my brain was plotting the next move, the other side was clamoring for expression."

Roger Boylan is currently working on his next book, one he describes as a "Swiss" novel. And, like most of us, he has a day job as a copy editor at Holt, Rinehart & Winston publishing house, where he edits high school textbooks. It's a job, he says, that ironically leaves little time for writing.


Roger Boylan will be signing copies of Killoyle at Book People (Saturday, May 24 at 2 pm), at Borders Books & Music (Sunday, May 25 from 3-5 pm), and at Barnes & Noble (Saturday, May 31 from 2-3 pm).

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