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Elizabeth Brundage discusses her fabulously dark and mysterious new novel, THE VANISHING POINT, how she enjoys investigating conflict from several angles, stylistic choices, existential questions & more


By Leslie Lindsay

A spare, unflinching, gorgeously rendered tale of intersections and cross-sections of our lives, the memories, jealousies, secrets, and more.

I am swooning over THE VANISHING POINT (Little, Brown May 18 2021) by Elizabeth Brundage. It’s eerie, evocative, entangling and pulls at a knotted thread of mystery. Here it has all of the hallmarks for gorgeous prose: it’s emotionally resonant leaving the reader with residual feelings and thoughts while at the same time generating forward momentum, it’s stunning.

Julian Ladd and Rye Adler are photography students–and roommates, briefly—during a time while attending an exclusive workshop, mentored by Brodsky, a photography great. It’s mostly men, but there’s a woman, too, Magda, a Polish immigrant who has spent most of her life in the U.S. Both men are fascinated and captivated by her, but no one can seem to ‘have’ her.

Julian and Rye’s lives diverge; they take different paths. Julian becomes ensconced in the pharmaceutical industry and Rye pursues photography. In fact, he’s at the top of his game, snapping photographs of celebrities and the like.

But now someone’s dead–at least presumed to be–there is no body, but speculation swirls: was it an accident? Suicide?

“A dark and moody literary mystery, centered on three photographers caught in a love triangle, Brundage’s stylish novel probes the relentless demands of real-world problems on artists and their work.”

New York Times Book Review


Traversing decades and exploring such themes of our changing world, about the denouncement of relationships, the fleeting images of our past and even our present. THE VANISHING POINT is highly sophisticated in theme and motifs, exploring those intersections–and cross-sections–of our society from homelessness to the immigrant experience, elitism, addiction, secrets, jealousies, motivation, and so much more. It would almost do the work injustice for me to try to summarize the plot or even my feelings about the book–just read it–you won’t be sorry.

THE VANISHING POINT is somber and stark but glittering with the most gorgeous and unfiltered prose with sharp descriptions and hugely perceptive.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Elizabeth Brundage back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Elizabeth, I am so, so in love with this book. I mean, it’s stunning. Not only is your prose razor-sharp and brilliant, but the themes are just so spot-on for this period in history. I know you had hoped to write a story about how photography serves as a metaphor—and it does (and you were successful in doing just that in THE VANISHING POINT)—but was there more to your inspiration? Other details and aspects you wanted to explore?

Elizabeth Brundage:

Leslie, thank you for your kind words about the book, they mean so much to me, truly. 

I guess it was about four years ago when I started taking pictures every day as a method of teaching myself how to see.  Walker Evans famously said that it was the seeing that mattered to him, that his eye distinguished his work, not his camera.  That was my north star in writing this novel.  Trying to see what is real for these characters in an age of visual deception.  I wanted to find the real vs. the virtual. Who are we at this moment in time?  What are the things that bring us joy, the things that damage us or threaten to destroy us, the things that make us human?

This is a story about a love triangle that develops between three photographers, Rye, Magda, and Julian, who meet at an exclusive photography workshop in their twenties, when their ambitions are unrestrained and uncorrupted.  Over time, the realities of life and the difficulty of making it in a highly competitive field inevitably alters their dreams.  I was interested in the competitive dynamic that exists between artists; a dangerous rivalry develops between Julian and Rye that forever underscores their lives.  Magda realizes all too quickly that she does not share the same opportunities as her male counterparts and, faced with many challenges, she makes a choice that casts a shadow on her destiny. 

When her son, Theo, starts using heroin, it feels like a betrayal of her conscientious mothering, and her life is suddenly, radically, changed – not unlike so many families in this country that have been caught in the grip of the opioid crisis, including my own.  I knew I needed to write about it. Our kids are at the mercy of our times – I wanted to show this with Theo. Addiction is a symptom of a much larger problem and you can’t really isolate it. Various questions came up for me.  Why is this happening to so many of us?  Who is ultimately responsible, if anyone?  What are some of the untruths, the mythology, associated with withdrawal?  How are parents unwittingly complicit in the decisions their children make?  Magda knows her life depends on saving Theo.

Photo by Csongor Kemu00e9ny on Pexels.com

Photography was useful to me as a thematic resource, allowing me to explore how each character’s unique vision and voice is a direct response to the world we’re living in right now. The novel, ultimately, is about perception – how we can all look at the same picture and see something entirely different depending on our vantage point, our frame of reference. 

We live in a visual world; a constant onslaught of images on screens everywhere.  I started to wonder how it alters our perceptions, our sense of who we are.  It’s true that, with the easy accessibility of our iPhones, we’re taking more pictures than ever before – but it doesn’t mean we are actually seeing.  We’re posting curated versions of ourselves, our lives, as evidence of our happiness – but that doesn’t make them true.  So there’s a sort of deception going on that we’re all participating in – a deception of the self – a virtual reality vs. what is real.  I wanted to get at what is real in this novel.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

“At Rye Adler’s funeral, they didn’t bury his body – or the rivalry of his closest enemy.  A gripping literary thriller by the author of the “wrenching and exhilarating” All Things Cease to Appear.”

Wall Street Journal

Leslie Lindsay:

You are an accomplished photographer yourself. I know it began bit as a ‘method acting’ when writing THE VANISHING POINT—I think you wanted to explore what it was like to get behind the lens. I’ve loved observing your evolution on Instagram. Your photos are so strikingly haunting and sparse, and rarely include people—much like one of your characters. Like you, I find a ‘soul’ or presence in photography void of humans. Can you talk about this, please?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I like this idea of the soul coming through in some of the pictures we take.  I’m thinking that the soul is light.  And sometimes you can find a certain glow in photographs, some inexplicable and ephemeral manifestation that seems to suggest the idea of God….

I wanted to consider, in very general terms, God as an idea. The question of God comes up throughout the novel for almost all of the characters. Even Julian, who is not a believer, admits to noticing a mysterious light in some of his photographs of empty lots or vacant land.  There are enigmas in life.  I’m interested in writing about things that are not easily explained and yet are entrenched in our perceptions, our collective consciousness.  What do we make of that special light?  What do we bring to the image?  What do we invent?  Are our interpretations pure or an amalgamation of ideas and historical rhetoric?  What do we believe in?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Here’s what I love about writing and photography: they are both storytelling mediums. They evoke emotion, stir memory, and more. And, as you hint at in THE VANISHING POINT, photography is fleeting; capturing a moment in time never to be had again. While writing—and its longevity—is a little different, it might be said that it too changes as the reader evolves. That’s why when we re-read something, it might strike differently. Can you expand on that, a bit?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I love to reread books.  When you first pick up a novel you read it as quickly as you can to see how it resolves.  With some books you want to go back and reread certain passages because the writing is so exquisite.  Again, it’s all about perception and where you’re at in your life at the time you’re reading something.  There are books I started years ago and set aside and went back to later and found them to be incredible.  I think it’s important to be open to novels, to forego your expectations and let the writer take you someplace you probably weren’t expecting. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a little about your writing process? I know you did a ton of research for THE VANISHING POINT—reading about photography in textbooks, memoirs, etc. Do you research as you write, do it all ‘up front,’ or sort of hybrid? What elements of craft do you struggle with? What do you feel are your strong suits?

Elizabeth Brundage:

With this book in particular I did a lot of research up front while the characters were incubating inside my head.  I read as much as I could on the subject and practice of photography.  I wanted to gain a better understanding of how photographers see.  I studied the history of the medium, and was able to interview several professional photographers.  I attended the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC, which was an amazing experience.  I started taking pictures on a daily basis, which helped me to better understand the mindset of a person who makes countless images, who captures the world inside a frame.

The frame is interesting.  What’s inside of it; what is just beyond its boundaries?  And what is our frame of reference in life?  How does each of us develop a world-view?  For some of us, it’s easier to crop the frame, to choose what’s inside of it, while, for others, the lens offers an unedited landscape.  I read so many fascinating books about the photographer’s process, many of which I’ve referenced in the acknowledge pages.

When I’m writing a novel, I think of my keyboard as the keys to a piano.  All of the notes have to add up to something.  I think of the story I’m telling as a visual opera.  I try to imagine it as if it will be read in one sitting.  There is the story that builds like a hive around a central dilemma.  There is the sense of place, the imagery, and the music of the words, the language.  I attempt to create a world that you can vividly see in your head as you read.  This is partially the hungry filmmaker in me.  As I’ve become more experienced as a novelist I realize that every sentence, every decision, matters.  Words.  Images.  The sound of the sentences as they stack up on the page. 

What elements of craft do I struggle with?  I tend to write pretty dark fiction.  I struggle with the idea of genre.  I find myself always writing a story that is, at its core, tethered to the thriller or mystery genre. But in truth I am not consciously trying to “thrill” people or make them turn the page.  I see life as both mysterious and thrilling.  When I’m working on a novel, I’m investigating a conflict of some sort from several angles. Every story I write is generated by philosophical and existential questions about who we are as people and what we’re doing here on this earth.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In terms of structure—sort of at a micro-level—I noted the lack of quotation marks. At first, I didn’t notice, then it became a bit jarring. Finally, I liked it. It flowed. It felt more organic. Can you tell us about that decision? Was it intentional?

Elizabeth Brundage:

It’s a stylistic choice.  Ideally, when the reader is immersed in the world of the book, quotation marks are not necessary. I trust the reader’s ability to understand what is happening, to be invested in the characters, without having to be told when they are speaking. 

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how some of these places you mention in THE VANISHING POINT are so hallucinatory, so dreamlike, almost. They are a bit wonky—fragments and fractals—of underpasses and communes, backyards, abandoned places, seaside cottages, parked trucks. I love everyone one of them. Do they exist outside of your imagination? 

Elizabeth Brundage:

I think they are fragments, perhaps, of what I see inside an imaginary setting.  As in a photograph, a few remarkable details can describe a place – almost like the recollection of a memory, or the fragments of dreams, you can build a story from there. I try to use images that viscerally bring to mind a time and place so that the reader can fully inhabit the scene. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Elizabeth, I loved this so much. Thank, you, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten, or perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I just want to thank you for having me here today, and for your interest in this novel, and also for your love and support of so many writers in the work you do.  Your enthusiasm, your generosity, your genuine spirit – I am so very grateful for it. 

Photo Credit: Leslie Lindsay @leslielindsay1 #bookstagram #bookflatlay #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Elizabeth Brundage, or to purchase a copy of THE VANISHING POINT, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

I was reminded, in part, of the work of Anita Shreve meets Thomas Christopher Greene (especially THE PERFECT LIAR), with perhaps a touch of Meredith Hall (BENEFICIENCE and WITHOUT A MAP)

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others is one small way to engage with the literary community.

Author Photo Credit: Edward Acker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Brundage is the author of four previous novels, including All Things Cease to Appear, which was a Wall Street Journal best mystery and the basis for the Netflix film Things Heard and Seen. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received a James Michener Award, and she attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Witness, New Letters, the Greensboro Review, and elsewhere.  She has taught at several colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was a visiting writer-in-residence.  Brundage lives with her family in Albany, New York.

Photo credit: J. Lindsay

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to become an audiobook from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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Always with a Book at work #bookflatlay #bookstagram @leslielindsay1

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others is one small way to engage with the literary community.

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