A few alphabetized questions with Jamie Iredell

The Book of Freaks lets Iredell’s bewildering imagination range across a wealth of oddities and surprises


Jamie Iredell’s latest work of fiction, The Book of Freaks, is closer to a dictionary or an encyclopedia than a novel or a collection of short stories. Each page is an alphabetized entry describing a freak of some sort, whether that would be an Eagle Scout, a drunk driver, or a chicken fried steak. The alphabetized conceit is carried over to the book’s basic structure: the title page ends up between “Tiny Head” and “Town Kids” near the book’s end, copyright page between “Contrarians” and “Courtship,” and so forth.

This knack for formal play should be recognizable to anyone who caught Iredell’s stunning 2009 debut, Prose. Poems. A Novel., which masterfully worked explosive vignettes into the arc of a drugged and fractured coming of age novel. Iredell continues to use the short form in Freaks - rarely does one of these entries extend past a single page - but the encyclopedic structure lets his bewildering imagination range across a wealth of oddities and surprises.

We caught up with Iredell this week to ask him a few questions about the book and somehow all the questions and answers ended up in alphabetical order.

A freak needs what to be a freak?

All People, including mothers, are freaks. I’m not convinced my mother actually thinks thoughts; she responds tot he world emotionally: love, frustration, happy, drunk, sad. She rarely gets angry, only frustrated, and the last emotion is happy, which is usually most if the time. Thanks god for her because I never would’ve tried to write anything without her genes.

Any last words?

Azores would be a nice island chain in which to eat sausage.

Did you plan to work with this encyclopedic form and then start composing entries? Or the other way?

Far better to go the other way. The encyclopedic structure came pretty late. I was just writing stuff without thinking about what it was, how it might work for really anything, much less a book. The book then evolved out of snippets that I noticed had certain similar characteristics. Probably when I’d written a third of what you see in the book I realized that I had a project, but even then I still did not know how I might organize it. That came after I’d written almost everything. Then I revised thinking in terms of a voice that might carry through the whole book, and the encyclopedic structure/character telling each “entry” seemed right.