Inher­it­ed Disorders

Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • From the Publisher
March 30, 2017

Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s Inher­it­ed Dis­or­ders is a rue­ful, absurd, and end­less­ly enter­tain­ing look at a most seri­ous sub­ject — the eter­nal­ly vexed rela­tions between fathers and sons. In a hun­dred and sev­en­teen shrewd, sur­re­al vignettes, Sachs lays bare the pet­ty rival­ries, thwart­ed affec­tion, and mutu­al baf­fle­ment that have char­ac­ter­ized the fil­ial bond since the days of Davidic kings. A philosopher’s son kills his father and explains his apho­risms to death. A father bequeaths to his son his jack­et, deodor­ant, and polit­i­cal beliefs. England’s most famous medi­um becomes pos­sessed by the spir­it of his skep­ti­cal father — who ques­tions, in front of the nation, his son’s choice of career. A Czech pianist ampu­tates his fin­gers one by one to thwart his father, who will not stop com­pos­ing con­cer­tos for him. A nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Ital­ian noble­man wills his ill-con­ceived fly­ing con­trap­tion — inca­pable of actu­al flight — to his new­born son. In West Hol­ly­wood, an aspir­ing screen­writer must con­tend with the judg­men­tal vis­age of his father, a respect­ed pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al whose frozen head, clear­ly dis­ap­point­ed in him, he keeps in his freez­er. Keen­ly inven­tive, but painful­ly famil­iar, these sur­pris­ing­ly ten­der sto­ries sig­nal the arrival of a bril­liant new com­ic voice — and fresh hope for fathers and sons the world over.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Final­ist Adam Ehrlich Sachs

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is proud to intro­duce read­ers to the five emerg­ing fic­tion authors named as final­ists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture. Today, we invite you to learn more about Adam Ehrlich Sachs and his book, Inher­it­ed Dis­or­ders, a hund­ed and sev­en­teen vignettes address­ing the com­plex rela­tion­ship between fathers and sons.

A warm con­grat­u­la­tions to Adam and the oth­er four final­ists: Paul Gold­berg, Idra Novey, Rebec­ca Schiff, and Daniel Tor­day. Join Jew­ish Book Coun­cil on May 3, 2017 at The Jew­ish Muse­um for a dis­cus­sion with the authors and announce­ment of the recip­i­ent of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture! Reg­is­ter for free tick­ets here »

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

Find­ing ways to ignore the fact that I’m mak­ing peo­ple up, dress­ing them up, and parad­ing them about, like a crazy per­son or a young child; sum­mon­ing every morn­ing the nec­es­sary state of lucid self-delusion.

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

A small hand­ful of his­tor­i­cal neu­rotics, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Ger­man or Ger­man-Jew­ish, who con­trived their own pri­vate tech­niques for trans­form­ing their neu­roses into com­e­dy or philosophy. 

Who is your intend­ed audience?

Con­tem­po­rary neu­rotics and the neu­rotics of the future. Ner­vous Jew­ish Bach enthu­si­asts. Obses­sive-com­pul­sive insom­ni­ac optometrists. Teenagers old enough to look a per­son in the eye when they shake his or her hand yet still for what­ev­er rea­son inca­pable of doing so. 

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

Yes, a novel.

What are you read­ing now?

Stan­ley Cavell’s The Claim of Rea­son. From one per­spec­tive, it’s an inquiry into the deep­est prob­lems of exis­tence; from anoth­er, it’s the diary of a fret­ful bour­geois with­out a pro­duc­tive out­let for his ener­gy. That com­bi­na­tion, for me, is the sweet spot.

Top 5 favorite books

At the moment:

The Cas­tle by Franz Kafka

Walk­ing by Thomas Bernhard

Michael Kohlhaas by Hein­rich von Kleist

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov 

Mol­loy by Samuel Beckett

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

Col­lege, the end of senior year, in my dorm room, tear­ing out my hair over a the­sis on hur­ri­cane dynam­ics, while my friends who had decid­ed to give Hol­ly­wood a shot next year were get­ting out­ra­geous­ly drunk. I thought: I want to be that drunk.

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly I more or less sub­scribe to the Schopen­hauer­ian view that our desires are end­less, each suc­cess only cre­ates new wants, et cetera. I think the most we can hope for is that at our death we have been more suc­cess­ful than our friends, in terms of books sold and awards won. 

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

I drink two cups of cof­fee, move my cat from my desk chair (her favorite) to the bed, fran­ti­cal­ly flip through my favorite books look­ing for 8 – 10 good sen­tences to remind myself of the task, which some­how I’ve for­got­ten overnight, and then get started.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

I would like for them to feel that some­thing sim­ple has been made need­less­ly com­plex, and to find this, for some rea­son, amusing.

Adam Ehrlich Sachs stud­ied atmos­pher­ic sci­ence at Har­vard, where he wrote for the Har­vard Lam­poon. His fic­tion has appeared in The New York­er, n+1, and McSweeney’s, among oth­er places. He lives with his wife in Pittsburgh.

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