Percival Everrett talks about new fall novel “Dr. No”

Autumn preview books

dr No

By Percival Everett
Graywolf: 232 pages, $16

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Percival Everett writes novels that play with genres, with language, and with our culture’s assumptions about race and gender. But for his novel “Dr. No,” came from Graywolf Press in November, Everett wrote about nothing.

The latest from the USC English professor and Guggenheim Fellow is another cross-genre hybrid, featuring a cast of characters straight from a 007 novel: John Milton Bradley Sill, a billionaire who wants to be a Bond supervillain; a mathematician named Wala Kitu, whose specialty is the concept of “nothing”; and a young woman who is both a genius and a sex object. All become entangled in Sill’s desire to own the interior of Fort Knox with a subplot involving the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Everett spoke to The Times via Zoom in August about a lot of things, but mostly nothing.

"dr No" by Percival Everett

At “Dr. No”, Sill wants to own everything, while Wala Kitu (whose two names mean nothing) specializes in nothing. “Zero” is a mental concept that cannot be demonstrated in real life. How did you envision a nothing to write about?

I started with nothing. [Laughs.] Nothing has long been an intriguing concept. The West refused to have the number zero because it undermined the idea of ​​God: You can’t have anything because of the impelling force. But in the Middle East and the Arab world, nothing allowed all kinds of tables. So if you find something was really useful, change your religion in this highly religious way.

I love arithmetic; it is fascinating to me. I wish I were a mathematician. I would be if I was smart enough to understand a lot of the stuff I read, but I can’t get away with anything.

Which came first: the idea of ​​nothing or the desire to pull a prank?

I honestly do not know. It’s certainly true that every time I finish a novel, I immediately forget about it. Actually, the birth of the novel had nothing to do with the novel we ended up with. Actually, I thought: What would happen if the character from my novel ‘Glyphe’ grew up?” At first [Wala Kitu] identifies himself as Ralph Townsend [the toddler-prodigy narrator of “Glyph”]. That’s where it started for me.

Sill believes he can’t own anything with his money, but instead creates negative space. Wala Kitu seems to understand that nothing is truly neutral – stasis. Do I have this right? In your opinion, does nothing have any value?

Although about nothing, the novel is actually about finding something in nihilistic existence. As for the characters, one could perhaps say that their pursuit of nothingness is a response to a materialistic world that offers many things that ultimately don’t matter much and aren’t satisfying. That’s all nonsense, of course – and really doesn’t help. Does that help? I can’t continue as I have nothing left. At least there is. Percival Everrett talks about new fall novel “Dr. No”

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