The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac
by Kris D'Agostino
Kris D’Agostino lives in Brooklyn, NY. This is his first novel.
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When people want to know if my novel is autobiographical, I always feel like saying: “What work of fiction isn’t?” It’s all based on something, even when it’s not.
The wackiest and thereby most vexing period of my life (so far) was my mid twenties. I found that handful of years, roughly from 23 to 26, and the extended period of post-college floundering around that went with them, to be stranger and far more coming-of-age than my teenage years. Much more so than high school (encapsulated for me by a white suburban upper-middle class bubble) ever was. I knew I wanted to try and express the emotion, the anxiety, the excitement, the antsy-ness, the wonder --- and the lurking, unspecified dread --- that informed that period.
My father really does have multiple myeloma. My family really did lose their house. I really did work at a preschool for autistic kids. My grandmother really did mistake a picture of Osama Bin Laden for God. My brother really did think he was reverse discriminated against by a Metro-North train conductor. Most else in the book is exaggeration, or complete invention. I do not have a sister. I rarely smoke weed. I don’t know any live-action role players. My father did not carry a gun around in his bathrobe, although it might have been interesting if he had.
I graduated from college in May of 2000. And much like Calvin Moretti, when it was over, I had no idea what to do with myself. I knew one thing: I didn’t want a job. Furthermore, I had no idea how to get one. Nor did I know what people actually did at “real” jobs. So I decided to go back to school. Get a Masters. Two more years of partying, I thought. I started a film MFA at Boston University. I was 21. Long story short, I dropped out after a year and wound up living back home after being on my own for five years. My youngest brother, Tom, was still in high school. Almost immediately, I retrograded back to my high school self --- both in how I started to view life, and how I dealt with my parents and the people around me. I was jobless, broke, and largely without motivation. The next 8 months became, without a doubt, the strangest, most surreal and intensely formative period of my entire life. I was completely adrift in the world without any direction in which to steer myself. No one was forcing me to grow up. It didn’t seem like I had to. I’m a huge fan of coming-of-age stories. But I felt like I hadn’t been reading books (or watching films) that took on this idea of my generation’s grossly delayed plunge into adulthood. And anytime I did come across some piece of art that attempted to tackle the subject, there was often a romance component as the fulcrum, or the thing would be bogged down by pointless pop culture reference. Or, worst of all, it would fall back on grossly inaccurate and contrived dialogue to attempt to convey how young people talk to each other. A sort of “look how cool and hip and funny they are” mentality. I wanted to consciously avoid those trappings. I didn’t want love to be a motivator for Calvin. I didn’t want friends, or “good times” or anything like that. What I wanted to do was put on the page a snippet of someone’s life at a crossroads.
I was also really interested in the generational divide I saw between my parents and I. My father was a homeowner, had a career, and his first child (me), all before he turned 30. I’m about to turn 33 and have done none of those things. This strikes me as noteworthy, or at least of some interest. Before starting to write Sleepy Hollow, I looked back at novels and films I liked that I thought fit the bill. Art about people who were too old to be experiencing the feelings they were having. Technically, at 23, I should have been moving “past” any coming age experiences. But there I was, trying to puzzle out in which direction I wanted my life to go. And where I wanted it to go.
Why does anyone write anything? There are more answers to that question than there are books in the world, and none of them really get at the amorphous motivations that drive people to make art. Or at least I don’t think they do. The truth is I wrote The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac because I couldn’t write anything else. When I sat down in front of my computer and started typing, these were the characters, this was the story, that I knew how to tell, because these were the things that were happening around me. These were the people who had populated my life, for better or for worse.