An undercover FBI agent, aliens waging war on New York City and a tempting chance at love provide just a glimpse at what readers have in store when they crack open “Mr. Either/Or.”
Fresno State professor and author Aaron Poochigian introduced his latest novel at a reading and book signing last Thursday evening. The event was put on by the department of modern and classical languages and literatures and the Fresno State Classics Club.
Set in modern New York City, Poochigian chose to write his book in meter, using iambic pentameter and alliterative verse. He also wrote in the second-person-singular point of view for an “immersive experience.”
“I wanted to deal with what I call American mythology, and certain settings are more numinous than other settings,” he said. “New York is familiar to lots of audiences from films, in particular. Lots of movies are set there, and so places I mention will be familiar to audiences that don’t live in New York City.”
Such mythology included in the book are mole people and the lizard-like aliens. Poochigian said he wanted to include the American mythology as a parallel to the ancient Greek mythology.
“I see ‘Mr. Either/Or,’ more than any of my other books, as an embodiment of that purpose in that I want to take everything that I love the most from classical literature and present it to a 21st century audience in a 21st century idiom to make it a living thing in the 21st century,” he said.
The book follows New York University undergraduate and undercover agent Zach Berzinski and the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Li-ling Levine as they solve “world-threatening problems.”
Poochigian said that earlier drafts of the book were written as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, which is why he chose the second-person perspective.
He later turned it into a straight-through narrative, with the main character inspired by himself‒or rather, an imagined version of himself.
Poochigian said the ‘you’ character in the book, which refers to main character Zach, is an idealized version of himself in his early 20s.
“[Berzinski] allowed me just a purely escapist pleasure that I appreciate in fiction,” he said.
Freshman Lorissa Holguin attended the reading to earn extra credit for her ancient Greek class. Though she usually reads monster or mystery novels, she said “Mr. Either/Or” sounded different from her usual reading list.
“It sounds interesting just because of the structure of the book,” Holguin said. “I’ve never read a book that was in the second-person-singular like that.”
Holguin said that she expects most books to be written with detail and a sense of maturity, but Poochigian’s book surprised her with its action-filled content.
“His felt more like you were reading a comic book itself,” she said. “There was so much action, so much to do, so much play with the words that it felt childish, but very mature at the same time. It was weird‒a good weird.”
Members of the Classics Club also attended the book release, including club president Steven Carrisalez and vice president Olivia Mannon.
Carrisalez purchased the book after the reading, and said he was looking forward to reading it.
“It’s rare to see any book written in meter, especially today,” Carrisalez said. “Poetry readings are not necessarily always exciting, but this was.”
Mannon said that the reading was a good opportunity to promote the Classics Club and the department, in general.
“Professor Poochigian is brand new to campus, and we really wanted to show him off because he’s an amazing poet, and he’s translated Sappho that’s been published and a bunch of other Greek literature, as well,” Mannon said. “We’re super-fortunate to have him.”
Mannon said it was Poochigian’s “mellifluous” reading that grabbed her attention.
“I think he read it so well as if he were the character,” she said. “It’s stylized just like kind of a Homeric epic, except [it] definitely relates to 21st century life.”
Poochigian’s advice for writers is to learn the fundamentals of writing and to write as much as possible, whether you feel like it or not.
“The simple pleasure of sitting down and writing is enough for me now, and it wasn’t when I was in my 20s,” he said. “Eventually, writing does become its own reward.”