John Reed has attracted his fair share of controversy. His novel Snowball’s Chance, in which Snowball brings capitalism back to Orwell’s Animal Farm, generated criticism—and praise—from the right and left alike. His latest book, All the World’s a Grave (ATWAG), a pastiche of the lines from five of Shakespeare’s plays, is just as contentious. The subtitle “A New Play by William Shakespeare” says it all: Prince Hamlet goes to war for the daughter of King Lear, Juliet. When Hamlet returns he discovers that his mother has murdered his father, and married Macbeth. Visited by his father’s ghost, and goaded by the opportunistic Lieutenant Iago, Hamlet is driven mad by the belief that Juliet is having an affair with General Romeo.
12th Street: It has been said that we Brits are gluttons for punishment. After the reception your book Snowball’s Chance received from the Orwell estate, was it a natural progression to take on, as George Bernard Shaw quipped, “Bardolatry?”
JR: Hmm, I didn’t think about it like that. Maybe I do have it in for the Brits.
12th Street: Thank you. Was personal enjoyment one of your influences when deciding to take this project on, or was it something else?
JR: Oh, sure, I had a blast. I feel, on some level, that writers just do whatever they want and make up reasons later. That’s why some of their rationalizing seems so retarded to other people.
It didn’t hurt that Emily Haynes, my editor, liked the idea. I can’t say that was the single impetus, because I had taken a stab at the project in college—[and] not gotten anywhere—and written the first act in 2003. To be honest, even though Emily liked the idea I was suspicious of it, and I confess that I wasn’t compelled so much as I was consumed. Not an act of will, but an act of abandon.