developed a phobia of Los Angeles," says David
could have been a problem for the 45-year-old author,
whose novel "Mount Terminus" (Farrar, Straus
& Giroux, $26) is set in early 20th century L.A. But
it was the book ó which he spent more than a decade
writing ó that estranged Grand from the city where he
couldnít deal with the sensory overload I experience
when Iím there," he says from the safety of his
Brooklyn walk-up. "Whether itís the light or the
landscape or transitioning from one dynamic neighborhood
to another, I just kept thinking Iím going to see all
these people trampling the sacred ground that Iíve
been constructing for all of these years."
Grand has constructed is a layered literary take on
creativity and silence, identity and ambition,
storytelling and filmmaking and solitude. In it, Bloom,
a young boy, is brought by his father to Mount Terminus,
which looms over the not-yet-built city of Los Angeles.
For his father, Jacob, California is a place of both
refuge and reckoning; he is, like many who came here,
running from something and trying to start anew.
his history catches up to him, Jacob creates a home for
his son thatís idyllic and free of want but also
isolated. Bloom is raised in their hilltop villa with no
companions but a deaf and mute maid. He is a product of
this world, perfectly suited to its solitude and quiet.
chose the interior space of Bloom," Grand says.
"I wanted to create the feeling that he was this
odd, lonely guy with a rich imagination who was very
comfortable in a world of silence."
Terminus" is dense and intense. Thank Grandís
process: Write several pages one day, compress them into
a few lines the next. Then do that again and again for
a long time for an author to stay out of circulation.
And those who remember Grand for his well-reviewed
earlier books ó 1998ís "Louse," a satire
featuring a Howard Hughes-like mad billionaire, and 2002ís
"The Disappearing Body," a 1930s noir ó wonít
find many similarities here. Except, of course, for a
determination to create something entirely new.
been busy while writing: Heís married, has twin sons,
and teaches creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson
University. One time-sapping activity he has managed to
avoid is social media. "If I had my choice I would
like to lead my very simple life, not put myself out on
public display when I have an interesting, idiosyncratic
idea. ... I kind of reserve that for my work ó which
is why I could sit around for 10 years and work on a
book," he says, laughing.
the course of our video interview, he cracks up when he
says something weighty or serious. Itís a little
self-deprecating, maybe, but itís also delightful: not
what you might expect from someone who has spent a
decade creating a serious work of art.
"Mount Terminus," Bloom becomes a young
storyboard artist, a man who envisions how stories can
come to life frame by frame. Of course, he never would
have emerged from the mountain if not forced to; that
impetus arrives in the form of his elder brother Simon,
an ambitious film producer and real estate developer,
poised to bring the whole city into being all by
himself. The mogul-on-the-make is a familiar story,
Grand knows, so he puts it on the periphery while
history unfolds at an even further remove.
we have instead is a bildungsroman of Bloom, a portrait
of the artist growing into his creative self, and
secondarily becoming a man. Will he, can he, should he
learn to live in the world?
creates a new literary hybrid: the Los Angeles Gothic.
"Once you put a big house on a hill, youíre
entering the Gothic; thereís no way of getting around
it," accedes Grand. Like the latter-day noir of the
film "L.A. Confidential," thereís a
thrilling contrast between the bright light of Southern
California with the dark emotions and actions of the
humans who move through it.
had that feeling when I was growing up: My moods were a
little too dark for sunny Southern California,"
Grand says. His parents divorced acrimoniously in New
York when he was 8, and his mother, a teacher, moved
David and his brother to an inexpensive apartment in
was raised "a good Jewish boy," attending
Sinai Temple on Wilshire Boulevard. Some of his Jewish
heritage makes it into the book, but itís the lost
history thatís more important. Bloomís family tree
pretty much stops at Ellis Island, something he shares
know very little about my family history ó itís kind
of a blank slate. I got a few stories out of my
grandmother before she passed away. Nothing
earth-shattering or groundbreaking: just people getting
thrown under trains and houses being burnt down. All of
the horrors one would expect from, you know, a
pogrom," Grand says. "Thatís part of the
Jewish experience that I wanted to relate in the novel,
the absence of family history."
that lack inspired self-invention. "It doesnít
surprise me that a bunch of Jews wandering the desert
would find themselves in a place like Los Angeles
building a dream factory," Grand says.
texture of early Hollywood comes to life in the book as
Bloom apprentices under a director making silent-era
audience-pleasers, then works for a visionary filmmaker.
wanted to create the experience of a silent film in that
character; I wanted him to embody it," Grand
explains. That melding of form and content is impeccable
throughout "Mount Terminus." Bloomís motherís
life takes some operatically dramatic turns ó which
Grand describes as being "the type of experience
that age would have had. I didnít want to shy away
from that overinflated emotion and the melodrama."
learned that lesson from a Russian poet he studied with
in college. "He must have been 90," he says.
"He was always wagging his finger at us, saying,
ĎOh, you people. I grew up in a poetic age. I grew up
in an age where people were unafraid to feel. I look at
you, I feel so sorry for you.í"
doesnít matter to Grand that melodrama isnít often
found in contemporary literary fiction. "I just
decided Iím just going to embrace it. Iím going to
go for it. Because that informs so much of the cinema
that emerged in that period. That raw emotion."
that Grand has completed the world he envisioned for Los
Angeles in the earliest days of cinema, heís ready to
return. "The second I finished, my first thought
was, ĎI canít wait to go back to L.A.í I miss
it," he says.