The Atlantic

The Powerful Practice of Writing by Hand

The author Laura van den Berg on what inspired her newest novel, The Third Hotel, and how she accesses the part of the mind that fiction comes from
Source: Doug McLean

In Laura van den Berg’s new novel The Third Hotel, the protagonist keeps running into her husband on the streets of Havana—which is strange because her husband is dead, killed by an oncoming car just a few weeks earlier. In the journey that follows, Clare begins to question everything she knows—her past, her present, the very distance between life and death—though the novel isn’t concerned with resolving the mysteries it presents. Instead, it’s about letting the reader inhabit a heightened sense of uncertainty to dramatize the ways that mourning can profoundly disorder us, reveling in what van den Berg calls “the hallucinatory quality of grief.”

In a conversation for this series, van den Berg explained how a short story by Joy Williams helped inspire . “The Country” also unfolds in ambiguous territory, a surreal landscape where a mass pandemic may or may not have struck, and the narrator’s deceased parents seem to be speaking to him through his son. Rather than definitely explain whether its unsettling events are “real,” the story’s shifting shape prepares us to ask profound questions about mortality—how we can be here one moment, and not the next. Van den Berg discussed the ways “The Country” informed her novel, how literature trains us to grapple with difficult

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