"Writing can be viewed as a sacrament insofar as it provides graced occasions of encounter between humanity and God," Ron Hansen wrote in A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction (2001). But the Gerard Manley Hopkins Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University doesn't just study writing—his novel Atticus was a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award. His other novels include Hitler's Niece and Marriette in Ecstacy. Hansen takes a slightly lighter route with his newest book, Isn't it Romantic?
Why the turn to romantic comedy?
I've always said that the goal of a writer is to educate and entertain. You have to entertain in order to educate. In this one, I put more emphasis on entertainment than on education, but it is giving a glimpse into the lives of people in the Midwest.
I wanted to treat the middle of America as foreign to a lot of people in America. [It's as foreign] as France is to us. There's a sense of alienation that you often find among people who have driven through the Midwest, maybe on I-80, but never have stopped off anywhere. The two coasts think that they know each other well but they don't know very much about the heartland.
What are the educational purposes behind the book?
First of all, I wanted to make people laugh in this. But I also wanted to acquaint people with what we might have lost when we're trying to be cool, when we're trying to be the biggest thing on the block. We kind of lose sight of what makes us good neighbors, what makes us good friends. And this is really about friendship, how it can be achieved, and what's the really important values in life.
What implications has faith had for you as a writer?
For a long time, my faith had been kind of subterranean. After writing ...