Eric Beck Rubin's School of Velocity (Doubleday Canada) marks the arrival of a talented new voice in CanLit.
The novel follows Jan de Vries, whose virtuoso talent at the piano promised him a stunning career. His soaring progress is cut short however, when he begins to experience auditory hallucinations. The hallucinations do more than rob him of his musical destiny, however; they unlock a flood of memories around his childhood best friend, Dirk.
As the pressure of the hallucinations drive Jan to action, a stunning story of friendship, obsession, and lifelong love is slowly revealed through Rubin's arresting prose.
We're pleased to welcome Eric to Open Book today to discuss School of Velocity as part of our Entitled interview series. Eric tells us about the mysterious stranger who supplied his memorable title, describes the function of a title in onomatopoeic form, and tips his hat to the iconic British author who's created many of his own favourite titles.
Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.
Eric Beck Rubin:
My agent is in a bar, describing the plot of the novel to an editor. What’s the novel called, the editor asks. An old man breaks into the conversation. “There is a series of piano exercises by Carl Czerny called ‘School of Velocity’.”
The exercises are used to warm up the fingers before practicing or performance. Most of them are played at sharply increasing speeds, mixing repetition and variation — all elements of the plot of the story. The old man walks out of the bar and is never heard from again. Everything in this story is true.
What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?
A title has got to be understood literally and metaphorically. Boom — it hits you. Hiss — it lingers.
What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)
“Dresden/Dresden” is the title of an article I wrote about visiting that city. I thought I was going to see the moonscape of Slaughterhouse-Five and many post-bombing pictures, but what I saw was the city as it existed before the destruction. I could not believe my eyes. The piece was published in Descant’s ‘Hidden Cities’ issue.
What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. It sounds like an expression you must once have heard somewhere, but is entirely the author’s creation. Winterson’s follow-up to that novel was her memoirs, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Obviously she’s on fire.
Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?
Once the old man broke into my agent, Andy’s, life, there could be no other titles. No titles before. No titles after.
What are you working on now?
I’m well into my second novel, which is about two brothers, Alec and Harry — fraternal twins, diametric opposites, closely bound through life.
Eric Beck Rubin is a professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Toronto, and this novel is his first foray into fiction. He is currently at work on a second novel: an ambitious, multi-voiced family saga spanning several generations, from pre-World War II Germany to present-day New York and Canada. The author lives in Toronto, Canada.
Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.
For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.