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Thirty-seven-year-old D.C.-based novelist Frederick Reuss is adamant that his comic debut, Horace Afoot, not be misconstrued as even the slightest bit autobiographical. But as the rather starchy scribe meanders through our interview—weaving together a host of biographical snippets with heavy-handed thoughts on identity—his sharp warning starts to decay. Finally, Reuss, explaining how each of us develops self and structure, utters, “We are basically what we read,” allowing at least some connection between his literary life and his personal one.

Reuss was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but was ever the transient—and “[a mystery] to myself as well”—living in India, Germany, and now here in the District. In Horace Afoot, the middle-aged protagonist is also an enigmatic wanderer, who eventually settles in the Midwestern town of Oblivion, harboring the most amorphous of intentions.

The similarities between author and protagonist go further: On the outskirts of Oblivion, Horace finds solace and eventual homeostasis on a virtually unprotected ancient Native American burial mound; before realizing his dream of writing slightly bizarre fiction, Reuss was a free-lance researcher/consultant for the Smithsonian’s North American ethnology team—specifically, he was involved in the repatriation of sacred artifacts.

If Reuss is correct, and we are in fact what we read, then the novelist himself might want to read something more relaxing. “The most important discovery I made as an adolescent” was the work of Franz Kafka, Reuss says, a hint of awe still in his voice. “It was the first time I had been confronted with a text that didn’t fit neatly into my view of the world…especially In the Penal Colony.” The influence is obvious; although Horace Afoot is indeed much brighter than The Metamorphosis, it is not without its absurdist, existential elements. Horace is a man mystified by the boundaries of cultural organization and identity. He does things not for a reason, but for a reaction. In fact, he seems a lot like Frederick Reuss.—Sean Daly