In your story in this week’s issue, “Night Swim,” a woman and her eight-year-old son are talking in the car on the way to a playdate. How hard is it to capture the rhythms of that kind of parent-child chat?
Yes, rhythm is the key to writing dialogue, because it holds the power and also the playfulness in whatever relationship we are sketching on the page. This chat between mother and son has some of the mirroring call-and-response that happens when a mother is doing her job properly—especially as the child, Ben, has nearly all the control. He manages his mother not just with his inescapable questions but also by falling silent—either to withhold information or to build suspense. I found it easy enough to do, but I was surprised, as I wrote, at how controlling Ben sounded, at least by the standards of adult dialogue. He gets a bit spooky, almost, toward the end. I think children bully their parents sometimes. Anxiety, in particular, can be a powerful method of control.
The mother has sudden memories of an earlier time in her life, when she was rasher and possibly coping with mental illness. The flashbacks are triggered by her son’s questions and by the streets she’s driving on. Do you think they also emerge from some kind of internal reckoning?
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Well, no—and that is why the story is also a little gothic. The past seems to return without warning. I am sure you know the story “,” by Elizabeth Bowen. In it, a woman receives a letter from a man whom she promised to marry twenty-five years earlier and who was subsequently reported missing in action, presumed killed. She finds the letter in an empty house and hurries away but, when she gets into a taxi, she discovers that it is driven by the man she has been trying to escape.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网The nightmare logic that informs modernism—the feeling that cause and effect have been reversed or do not matter—is also the logic of mental breakdown. It is all about rupture and repetition, not progression, growth, and change.
When the woman jumps into the lake for a night swim, her friends are disapproving. She feels that she’s making a “big statement,” but what is that statement?
2020欧洲杯体育投注网I am sure that her friends would ask the same thing. This is very challenging behavior. She is also naked.
When she wakes up the next morning, she vows that she’s “giving up death.” Was the swim a way of teasing the notion of suicide? Or was it just attention-seeking?
This is not a person who knows her own intentions. She took off her clothes to escape (or invite) desire and, in the middle of the lake, she discovered instead the awful desirability of death.
How much of that younger woman is left in the older one?
She has the brief sense that her death wish coats her, like water. This is like the feeling of shame itself, which can, I think, be experienced almost externally, as a horripilation. Goosebumps! She is visited by her previous self, not inhabited by her.
We don’t get much sense of the woman’s background, of what drove her behavior in her twenties, or whether her stay in the St. Clare’s “facility” changed anything. Did you have a picture of those things in your mind as you were writing, or are they mysterious to you as well?
She wears a loose linen summer dress and fancy underwear. The dress is, moreover, blue—you know the shade I mean. Could I make her more middle class? Perhaps a pair of espadrilles?
You’re about to publish a new novel, “,” about a mother and daughter with a somewhat fraught relationship. Did some of the energy of that book seep into this story, or is it completely unconnected?
“Actress” is a novel bursting with social and psychological content. It is hugely interested in connection and disconnection, performance, beauty, melancholy, you name it. It is, almost embarrassingly, about everything, all at the same time.
My short stories are only about themselves. They are the solution to their own riddles or non-riddles and, as such, they stay self-contained and indifferent to the rest of my work. There is nothing I can do about this. I had a chat with someone about swimming at night, we spoke about our children, I thought briefly about death: there it was.
I continue to be interested in the fact that children come out of your body, that giving birth is like pulling the sleeve of death inside out.
Would you rather live inside a turkey, or have a turkey live inside you?
I love my life.