Detroit native Michael Ferro wrote his novel, Title 13 (Harvard Square Editions, 2018), years before the Trump administration. But he found, years later, that he'd written a story strangely prophetic about today’s political atmosphere.
Ferro's character Heald Brown works at the Chicago Regional Census Center in a secretive division called Census Coverage Measurement. Ferro wrote his story as satire. It's similar in approach to Joseph Heller's classic novel Catch-22, capturing what Ferro says is the "craziness" of today’s political world.
“Catch-22 is one of my favorite novels of all time,” Ferro says. “I love the way it's able to capture such serious issues and focus on such things that really needed to be highlighted, such as the absurdity of war. I wanted to do something like Catch-22, using this zany, off-the-wall kind of humor in certain parts, to look at things that maybe hadn’t been uncovered yet. I wanted to take a look at office life, the bureaucracy of the government, and how it spirals out of control.”
In Title 13, Heald Brown seems to be responsible for losing classified government documents. While the entire office frantically tries to find them, Heald spirals into a growing addiction to alcohol while falling in love with a colleague and coping with family issues.
“The story is set in downtown Chicago and in Detroit,” Ferro says. “It takes place in the summer of 2010. Heald Brown works at the Census Center, and so he works for a branch of the government within the Department of Commerce. It’s the classic struggle for a young man just starting out. It’s got unrequited love, and it takes place right after the recession, which was so impactful for us younger folks who were graduating around that time. But the biggest focus of the novel is Heald’s struggle with addiction. The novel looks at how alcoholism affects his entire life.”
When working on his first draft, Ferro chose to write it on a typewriter rather than a computer.
“I have a bunch of these typewriters, kind of like this Tom Hanks-y sort of obsession,” he says. “The reason I love to write on my Olivetti rather than my Mac Book is because it really forces you to slow down. Every word you write, every mark you make, it’s there. And it’s not easy to get rid of. So you have to stop and you have to think. You have to process the words that you are going to write. And I love the clickety- clack of the keys. And oh, I love that ding! I wish I could implement that ding! in so many parts of my life.”
Michael Ferro will read from his novel at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
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