Interview: Eugene Mirabelli on “The Shore at the Edge of the World”
– Tell us a bit about “The Shore at the Edge of the World.”
I had been thinking rather idly of what the edge of the world would look like if our world were as flat as it appears to us earthlings. The image that came to mind wasn’t of a sea falling over the edge of the world like a gigantic Niagara Falls; on the contrary, it was of a sea growing more and more shallow until your keel crunches into the sandy bottom – a calm and flat sea on a flat world, a tranquil sunset world. Later, when I began to write the story about the gods giving us love instead of immortality – in other words, giving us death as well as love – I chose the setting that looked most appropriate to me, the shore at the edge of the world. About a year earlier I had written a story also about love and loss, “This Hologram World,” and it had been rather monochromatic and emotionally numb, for I composed it to match the feelings of the central figure. So I decided to make this one more engaging for the reader, rather comical in spirit, though tragic enough in its resolution.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
One of my friends had a close relative who was dying and in sympathizing with her I said that the gods had given us love instead of immortality. Later I learned that she had thought I was quoting an old Latin or Greek text, and had tried to look it up. Of course, she found nothing. So I set to work and wrote this story on that line.
– Was “The Shore at the Edge of the World” personal to you in any way? If so, how?
I’m in my eighties, and for anyone my age the abstractions of love, death, immortality or nothingness become concrete and visceral. Anyone past childhood knows that we and everyone we love will die. If we think about it, we know that love ends in loss. Now, I hope such thoughts are not on the mind of any couple falling in love and getting married. But that tragic aspect of life does inevitably and repeatedly impose itself later in the passage of any long-lasting happy marriage. Somebody will die first, somebody will be left in grief.
– Near the end of the story, one of your main characters declines a goddess’s offer of immortality for herself because she would lose the ability to love: the goddess tells her that love and mortality are inextricable from one another. Could you comment on that idea as well as the choice that she makes?
Life is unimaginably cruel. Human love is the only thing that stands between us and absolute chaos. We’re the only creatures conscious of the world and the universe in which we float. We’re the only creatures who know what death is, and knowing what we know, we crave immortality. But immortality without love would be endless life without purpose or meaning.
– What are you working on now?
I’m working on another novel. Presumably, a short novel, or novella. I guess it’s prudent for an octogenarian to plan something short if finishing is important. On the other hand, now that you’ve got me thinking about it, maybe it’s better to plan something along the lines of War and Peace. I mean, the only way you can really be sure you’ll not leave any loose ends is to never start anything. And that would be the same as never having lived. So maybe starting to write a great big book isn’t imprudent. Maybe in your eighties you should do what you damn well want to do.
“The Shore at the Edge of the World” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of F&SF.
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