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The Facts of Winter is my third book, begun in the spring of 2002 and finished about two years later. It has two parts: a collection of dreams, dreamed by people in and around Paris during the winter of 1881, which were written by the French poet Paul Poissel, and which I translated into English; and a long afterword which explains how Poissel wrote The Facts of Winter.

Caveat lector: in fact the whole work is my invention. It’s a record of the dreams of people made up by a writer who is himself a fiction. And yet, as I wrote in the introduction, “although The Facts of Winter live at several removes from the day and age in which you are reading them, they remind you that in dreams there is a thread of reality, which if you follow it will lead you out of even the worst labyrinths, generally the ones you’ve made for yourself.”

This was the effect I hoped Poissel’s dreams would have on me. I had just moved from San Francisco to New York City when I wrote The Facts of Winter. My new neighborhood, in Brooklyn, was eerily like the Manhattan neighborhood where I grew up in the 1970s: on Fifth Avenue, in Park Slope, you could still find the discount stores stuffed with miscellany — laundry carts, radios, clothes, toys, soap, fabric — that populated upper Broadway when I was a kid. New York was strange and at the same time it was familiar, as if I’d fallen asleep and reconstructed the city of my childhood in a dream.

American flags were everywhere, another dreamlike touch, which in fact spoke of the realest thing to happen in my lifetime. I had experienced 9/11 from the safety of San Francisco, but I came home in time for the aftermath: the flags, the unreconstructed rubble of Ground Zero, the muscular energy that rippled through people, as if we’d stopped being brains, and become merely arms.

In this landscape I wrote The Facts of Winter. It is a flight from reality — what could be farther from the Prospect Expressway than Paris? — but also an attempt to answer the question, what do you do with reality when it becomes more than you can bear? You transform it, I thought. You remake it as dream.

Here is one of the dreams Poissel recorded in his book:

On March 17 Schadager dreams of the rabbit again. It’s a brown rabbit, fairly large, which once had a fantastic run at the Lazari Theater. “And what am I doing now?” grumbles the rabbit. “I hang around in a garret with a stableboy for the bus company.” Schadager protests that it isn’t fair: he used to be an artist, too. “I played violin in all the orchestras of Paris,” he says. “Oh, violin,” says the rabbit, as if it were something to be ashamed of. “And you, what did you do?” asks Schadager. The rabbit doesn’t answer; with a lazy jump it goes into the corner and gnaws on the end of a rope. “What did you do, you?” Schadager repeats. “Huh?” The rabbit says nothing. “I’ll hang you with that rope if you don’t answer,” Schadager says. He gets up and threatens the rabbit with his hands. The rabbit looks at Schadager wickedly. “Violin!” it whispers.

Violin!

Top: image courtesy of the Centre de Documentation Paul Poissel, Aix-en-Provence. Bottom: illustration by Kakyoung Lee
© 2012 Paul Poissel
  • “Delicate and direct, it’s barely there when closed in your palm, but opened, it performs sly thievery, nicking childlike flights between memory and imagination.”
    The Village Voice

order this book

  • For a long time, The Facts of Winter was out of print—but no more! A paperback edition with all-new illustratiions is being published by McSweeney’s Books in October, 2011. You can order it from Amazon or Indie Bound.
  • The Facts of Winter