Over lunch he describes his novel in progress, currently titled “Anthill.” Its contents have occasioned certain differences of emphasis between himself and his publisher, even though it was his editor at Norton, Robert Weil, who suggested he write it. Dr. Wilson would like ants to play a large role in the novel, given all the useful lessons that can be drawn from their behavior. The publisher sees a larger role for people and a smaller, at most ant-sized, role for ants. The novel is rotating through draft after draft as this tension is worked out.
Dr. Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes for literature, but that is no shield against a publisher’s quest for perfection. “They said, ‘You can do better than that, Ed,’ ” he recalled. “I wrote another draft. They said, ‘This is great, Ed, but we need more emotion, ambivalence.’ ” In the next draft, he plans to have the human characters stand alone, without the ants if necessary.
C'mon, Norton, there are a million novels about people already. What are the chances that a 79-year-old first time novelist's novel about people is going to be terribly special? In contrast, how many novels are there about ants? And how many have been written by the world's leading authority on ants?
Save the ants!