When Brooks Sterritt first started working on his novel, a phrase by a famous painter generated an idea for the title that encompasses both his interests and the fast current of American history.
“The title is a reference to the painter Francis Bacon, who once quipped that a goal of his was to capture the history of Europe in his lifetime in a single image,” said Sterritt, a University of Houston-Victoria assistant professor of English. “Since I ran across that phrase, I’ve always been fascinated with the question — what if you could capture the history of America in a lifetime in a single book? Obviously, it’s an impossible goal. But what would that look like?”
Sterritt’s book, “The History of America in my Lifetime,” recently was published by Spuyten Duyvil in New York. The fiction novel is Sterritt’s first published book.
Sterritt has been a UHV faculty member since 2019 and teaches undergraduate and graduate creative writing and literature courses. He has a doctoral degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in fiction from Emerson College. He also has a Bachelor of Arts in German. In addition to his novel, Sterritt’s writing has appeared in publications including The Believer, the New Republic, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Subtropics, Salt Hill, Puerto del Sol and more.
“This is an exciting moment for Brooks, publishing his first book,” said Craig Goodman, interim dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “All the tears, blood and toil have finally come to fruition as the book sees the light of day. Brooks’s work also benefits our students at UHV because he can share his experiences about the writing process with them. It’s another great moment for Arts & Sciences where our faculty members demonstrate their craft both inside and outside of the classroom.”
The novel is considered a black comedy about a shredding factory employee who encounters a mysterious film and becomes obsessed with finding the film’s director. The setting of the novel takes place in a world like the present, Sterritt said.
The novel already has people reminiscing of Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and is giving people a good reason to laugh, according to reviews. Pulitzer Prize finalist and author Luis Alberto Urrea said “Brooks Sterritt writes like a demented John McPhee,” while author Jac Jemc called the novel “mind-bending, suspenseful, and extremely funny — I found this novel the perfect balance of intellectual challenge and pure pleasure.”
Some of the key topics in the novel include technology, the internet and film. The technology in the novel has much to do with data collection and security, and how that technology is used. The director of the mysterious film, for example, used surveillance footage for his film art. Sterritt, whose doctoral work involved how film and the novel relate and also teaches film and screenwriting courses, references films in the novel as well.
Some of the references include real or fictional movie references. There are passages in the novel that are deliberate homages to film scenes or have the style of certain film directors, such as Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch.
“There is something about writing down a film that captures or controls the story in a way,” he said. “Visual and literary art have, in ways, grown up together, and books have not been the same since film appeared. It’s been argued that early film took cues from the novels of Charles Dickens and Gustave Flaubert, too.”
“The History of America in My Lifetime” can be purchased through bookstores and online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target.