Cobble Hill

Esteemed Brooklyn literary critic releases debut novel

Brooklyn BookBeat: ‘Necessary Errors’ follows an American in Prague

August 5, 2013 By Samantha Samel Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Caleb Crain, an esteemed literary critic who frequently contributes to The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications, has now turned to fiction. Crain’s debut novel “Necessary Errors” (Penguin Group; Aug. 6, 2013) has earned high praise from writers and critics, and the Brooklyn-based author will appear at BookCourt in Cobble Hill to launch his novel on Aug. 7.

“Necessary Errors” opens in October of 1990 in newly democratic Czechoslovakia.  Jacob Putnam, Crain’s protagonist, is a young American who has arrived in Prague just a year too late to experience the Velvet Revolution. Still, he immerses himself in the country’s quickly changing political scene. Excited by the beauty and sense of opportunity in his adopted city, Jacob becomes involved with a group of expatriates. As these men and women become romantically involved with one another, Jacob’s first impressions of his new friends are challenged.

A coming-of-age story set against a unique and foreign backdrop, “Necessary Errors” is a poignant work of fiction grounded in history.

In celebration of Crain’s Aug. 7 Brooklyn appearance, Brooklyn Eagle checked in with the author. He tells us about his connections to Prague and shares with us some of his favorite Brooklyn writers.

With a successful career as a literary critic, did you have any hesitation about publishing your own work of literature?

No. Fiction was always the goal. Criticism was just a detour that happened to take a couple of decades.

What inspired you to write a novel?

I’m afraid it’s an ambition that I formed when I was a child, probably because I loved reading novels so much that they constituted a lifeline for me.

Why did you set the story in Prague?…What is your relationship with the city and its culture?

I lived in Prague many years ago, and after I returned, I studied Czech and even did a little translation for a few years.

Did you do much research in preparation for the novel?

Only in an ad hoc way. There were a few memories that I found myself trying to fact-check: what did a particular restaurant look like, when did a particular law on commercial-property reform get passed. But the book is fiction, and whenever my memory conflicted with the historical record in an interesting way, I went with my memory.

Where in Brooklyn do you live (and when did you move there)?
My husband and I have lived in Windsor Terrace since 2010. Before that, we spent about a decade in Park Slope, where we lived in a three-apartment brownstone that was a veritable warren of freelance writers-until it got bought up and turned into a single-family residence. Sic transit gentrification.

Who are some of your favorite Brooklyn authors?
Some of the best critics writing today live in Brooklyn: Wesley Yang on society and identity, Christine Smallwood on literature, Thomas Meaney on political philosophy, Melissa Anderson on film. And many more!           

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The Aug. 7 event will begin at 7 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.

Caleb Crain is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Nation, the New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, n+1, the Paris Review Daily, and the New York Times Book Review. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia, he is the author of the critical work American Sympathy. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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