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Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep, which was chosen by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of Panorama City.
Curtis Sittenfeld: Oppen Porter is endearing and often insightful, and he also has significant cognitive disabilities. How did you decide you wanted to tell his story?
Antoine Wilson: I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of someone who seemed, on the surface, to be a fool, an idiot, a doofus. I was inspired by Sancho Panza and Candide. But I let Oppen do something those forebears weren’t able to do: speak for himself, in his own voice. As for his so-called cognitive disabilities (he’s illiterate and preternaturally naïve), they provide a kind of detour around two distractions of contemporary life—information overload and mistrust of others—to arrive at something essential and true.
CS: Do you feel as if you know how a doctor would diagnose Oppen? If so, why did you choose not to mention what that diagnosis would be?
AW: I don’t believe in diagnosing literary characters. As useful as diagnoses can be in real life, they tend to reduce even living, breathing human beings into a list of symptoms and treatments. Apply that kind of constricting language to a literary character—who is after all only a cluster of words—and it’s like letting the air out of a balloon.
CS: Oppen has many entertaining philosophies about the world and its inhabitants. Are any of his views ones you especially share?
AW: Most problems can be solved by waiting. People who walk with their arms swinging look like apes.
CS: Much of the book is, directly and indirectly, about father-son relationships. Could you have written this novel if you weren’t a father yourself?
AW: While I was writing this book, my father died and my son was born. Never before have I felt so much like a link in the chain of generations. It’s no coincidence that Oppen finds himself in the same position, with a father just dead and a little boy on the way. I didn’t approach Panorama City as a transcript of my experience, obviously, but without these experiences I would never have written this particular book.
CS: Oppen finds himself in some interesting sub-communities, including as an employee of a fast food restaurant and a member of a Christian fellowship, and you depict these settings very convincingly. Do you have personal experience with them? Did you do research to get your details right?
AW: I have had enough personal experience with those sub-communities that what little research I did came after the draft was done, in the form of a kind of fiction-writer fact-checking. I’m not a research-first kind of novelist, mainly because I have trouble injecting facts into the part of my brain that generates fictional worlds.
CS: On a similar note, did you spend much time in Panorama City while writing this novel? Would a resident recognize the city, or did you fictionalize it?
AW: Any resident of the San Fernando Valley (or greater Los Angeles) would recognize the world of Panorama City, I'm certain. There’s a Babies R Us in Panorama City, so I tended to kill two birds with one stone, parental duties and novel research. The setting is not 1:1 with the real world, though, so there won’t be any Ulysses-type walking tours, I’m afraid. Maybe for the next book.
I shot a lot of photographs, too. Some went into a book, Shopping Carts of Panorama City, by my alter ego Jean-Jacques Arsenault.
CS: In addition to writing fiction, you maintain a few side projects on your website, including the oddly fascinating "Slow Paparazzo," which shows photos that purport to be places celebrities have just left. Is this really, as the site claims, “100% for reals,” and can you explain its genesis?
AW: Slow Paparazzo (http://theywerejusthere.tumblr.com) is indeed “100% for reals!” Basically I kept seeing celebrities while I was out for the day, mostly around my writing office, which is on the border of Santa Monica and Brentwood. I got a kick out of my sightings but didn't want to skeeve out the famous people, so I started tweeting them as #mentalpaparazzo. Then, after nearly walking into Dave Grohl outside our local toy store, I thought I should take a picture of where he’d just been and tweet that. That was the genesis. A Slow Paparazzo book is in the works.
Oppen is a character this reader really enjoyed -- his outlook on life is perhaps one to live by.
This style of writing is quite believable, but it also causes much rambling of mundane thoughts and detail which don't mean anything to the overall story.
This is one of those books that I think that I will return to in the future just because Oppen is a good guy to know and hang out with.
I read Antoine Wilson’s first novel, The Interloper, and loved it. So I picked up Panorama City and it’s just as good (maybe better!). Read morePublished 7 months ago by Candi Sary
While this was a well written character study, the character described was of little interest to me. I also found the people he encountered to be quite dull. Read morePublished 9 months ago by S. Steinberg
The author puts you so much into the mind and life of his protagonist. A unique and delightful creation all the way around. Read morePublished 11 months ago by D. Hess, avid reader
I absolutely enjoyed reading "Panorama City", latest book by Antoine Wilson. It is a novel about young man Oppen who is his early twenties becomes orphaned. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Eugenia
Merry holidays to my friends because for some reason this book just went to a low of just under six bucks. Read morePublished 14 months ago by C. E. Selby
Lovely novel about a simple young man who meets life head on. It is a story of purity, duplicity, and disillusionment that teaches fine lessons about life and people with the final... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Bookbag
As mentioned in a number of reviews, narrator Oppen has more than a little of Forrest Gump in him, sharing the "simple minded" belief that life is basically a "box of chocolates. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Michael Warren
This quick read has refreshing depth and honesty. The protagonist, Oppen, initially is somewhat reminiscent of Forrest Gump, but we quickly see that he is a character who is... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Live2Cruise
This was sophomoric. It felt like a rehash of Forest Gump with an eye to a movie deal. An ok beach read but not as good as a great thrillerPublished 19 months ago by Suzan Pearlstein