If you lose or break your Oscar, the Academy will give you a new one. And the same is true for most awards, though some make you pay for the replacement.
But that isn’t what happens to novelist Corey Fah in Isabel Waidner’s new novel, Corey Fah Does Social Mobility (paperback, Kindle), which, in the following email interview, they describe as being, “…a literary novel that deliberately works across established genre distinctions.”
Photo Credit: Robin Silas Christian
To start, what is Corey Fah Does Social Mobility about, and when and where is it set?
Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is about a writer, Corey Fah, winning a literary prize. Trying to collect their trophy as instructed, they find that the trophy keeps flying away — maybe because, as an outsider writer, Corey isn’t privy to the unwritten rules and expectations of literary prize culture! Instead, Corey meets a misfit version of Bambi — with eight eyes, and four additional spider legs — who they take home.
In what follows, Corey, with their down-to-earth partner Drew, tries to recoup the trophy and capitalize on their win — which involves appearing on a TV talk show, time-travelling, and visiting the forest of their childhood.
The novel is set in a version of London called the international capital in 2024 — and includes time travel into 1942, the forest of Bambi, and 1967, the year in which the British playwright Joe Orton, who inspires a talk show host in the novel, was murdered.
Where did you get the idea for Corey Fah Does Social Mobility? What inspired it?
My ambition for the novel was to examine and challenge conservative ideas around social mobility, which, especially in fiction, are often told as simplistic triumph-over-tragedy narratives, or connected to mythologies around merit. I use the example of a writer, Corey Fah, winning a prize (not unlike myself winning the Goldsmiths Prize in 2021) to make the case that it might not be quite so straightforward: propelled into unfamiliar contexts of social power and opportunity as a result of their win, Corey has to contend with their difference and their messy past catching up with them — in the shape of a cute but freaky Bambi-like character called Bambi Pavok.
Is there a reason you had Corey write novels as opposed to poems or short stories? Or, for that matter, be a painter or a filmmaker or some other kind of creative person?
Among other things, the novel provides a comment on class inequalities in literary cultures, so a novelist seemed apt.
You also mentioned that Bambi has “eight eyes, and four additional spider legs.” Is Bambi a spider, an octopus, a scorpion, or some kind of entity not native to our Earth?
Bambi Pavok is the misfit version of the Disney character of the same name: a deer and spider hybrid. His mother is a deer and his father a giant spider called the Black Widower Of The Forest. He is an agent of chaos, but ultimately quite loveable.
Why did you have Bambi be a cross between a spider and a deer as opposed to a dog or a cat? Or a deer who’s slightly annoyed Corey couldn’t come up with a more original name?
Bambi Pavok is not just a name; my character’s backstory is an irreverent take on the Disney character’s life. Bambi Pavok, like Bambi, lost his mother in a tragic incident when he was young. He even has a best friend called Fumper, the evil, bullying version of Thumper. He also represents Corey Fah’s difficult childhood, but that is another story and best left for the reader to figure out.
It sounds like Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is…not a sci-fi novel, but a novel that has elements of sci-fi, as well as weird fiction and other things. How do you describe it, genre-wise?
Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is a literary novel that deliberately works across established genre distinctions in order to “unrepress” — to use British cultural theorist Raymond Williams’s term — the multiplicity of writing. As a writer, I was shaped by modernist literary traditions, but I use tropes from sci-fi including time travel and multiverses, mild horror, and comedy, too.
Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is your fourth novel. Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on Corey Fah but not on anything else you’ve written?
The obvious and referenced influences on the novel are Prick Up Your Ears, John Lahr’s biography of Joe Orton, and Walt Disney’s Bambi.
Less immediately, Joe Orton’s political and irreverent plays [collected in Joe Orton: The Complete Plays] have been an influence on my writing for decades, but particularly on this novel.
What about non-literary influences; was Corey Fah Does Social Mobility influenced by any movies or TV shows? Aside from Disney’s Bambi, of course.
[Artist] Nicole Eisenman. I’ve written about the importance of Nicole Eisenman’s drawing Bambi Gregor on the conception of Bambi Pavok. [Which you can read here.]
As you mentioned, the movie Bambi was a big influence on Corey Fah Does Social Mobility. But do you think Corey Fah could work as a movie? Or would it work better as a TV show?
A mini TV series would work perfectly.
And if someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Corey, Drew, and, well, Bambi?
For Corey: an unknown transgender actor who is currently underemployed despite their obvious talent and competence.
For Drew Szumski: [Santa Clarita Diet‘s] Drew Barrymore in boy mode.
For Sean St. Orton, the Joe-Orton-inspired talk show host: Gary Oldman [Mank].
And for Bambi Pavok: Bambi with prostheses.
Finally, if someone enjoys Corey Fah Does Social Mobility, and it’s the first book of yours they’ve read, which of your other ones would you suggest they read next?