One of our favorite local writers, Elizabeth Crane, is about to break new ground. With her distinctive experimental style and quirky, charming voice, Crane has authored three remarkable collections of short stories—When the Messenger is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Now, she’s excited to publish her first novel We Only Know So Much (Harper Perennial) and kick off her national book tour next month. We can’t wait to see what Crane does in long form, but she says the transition wasn’t intentional. “At first I didn’t know I was writing a novel,” she told us. “It started as a short story that just sort of grew.” We Only Know So Much follows the dysfunctional Copeland family and is replete with eccentric characters and Crane’s off-beat humor. Unfortunately, we all have to wait until June to get our hands on it, so we asked Crane to recommend a good book to tide us over in the meantime.
ASF: Tell us about a favorite book or short story.
Elizabeth: I’m a big fan of Steven Millhauser. Dangerous Laughter knocked my socks off. Or maybe I should say Dangerous Laughter knocked me out and then my dog pulled my socks off. He likes to do that.
The first story “Cat ‘n’ Mouse” is definitely a favorite. It’s written as a narrative version of a cat and mouse cartoon—but what amazes me about this story is not its humor or mere cleverness in the way he captures every last detail of that type of cartoon, but in the way it ultimately transcends that genre and becomes a really beautiful, kind of haunted story about, well, an existential sort of loneliness. “The Dome” was another standout for me, and if you can find it online (I couldn’t), Alec Baldwin read it on Selected Shorts, which I highly recommend giving a listen to.
ASF: What do you look for when you read a piece of fiction? What makes something resonate and stick with you?
Elizabeth: Hm, good question. I really like work that takes risks, whatever that might mean. Sometimes it’s a stylistic risk, or other times it’s maybe emotionally risky. And of course, if a piece of well-written, smart fiction is also funny and heartbreaking, then I’m always going to be excited. And I think I always want to read something that feels really true, even if it’s surreal in some way. Those are the things that inspire me most as a writer, the books that make me feel like they’ve captured some truth about who people are and put it there in a way that makes it feel fresh.
ASF: Where is your favorite spot in Austin to delve into a great work of fiction?
Elizabeth: You know, my favorite reading spot is the same anywhere I live—my bed! But I can occasionally be found reading in the hammock in the backyard too.
ASF: We heard a rumor you might be leaving us and moving to New York.
Elizabeth: This rumor is true. I am very sad to be leaving the good friends I’ve made here. Austin has been very kind to me; as you know, the literary community is very supportive here. I’ll miss BookPeople for sure. And I’ll miss a few favorite restaurants: Counter Cafe and Eastside Cafe, and I was going to miss the Alamo Drafthouse but apparently they’re opening one in NY! My dog will miss Redbud and his neighbor dog friends.