Usually, with a novel, you start with no idea what to do because your job is to create convincing characters and then they just run around getting crazy. The problem with writing a memoir, obviously, is you can’t do that because you sort of know what’s going to happen. Because you’re the character.
Philip Roth may have retired, but that doesn’t mean he’s done giving interviews. The author recently sat down with the editor of a Swedish newspaper, who talked with him about misogyny, Sabbath’s Theater and the need for “obstinacy” in a writer. (Related: our own Hannah Gersen reviewed Roth Unbound.) (h/t The Paris Review)
I do study Proust, for multiple technical virtuosities but also his swerve, as you say, between characters and in scenes. Certain films can help for that, too, in terms of understanding how multiple conversations at a table, or in a room, can take place and remain separate, and dissonant, and also gather themselves, accidentally, into a collective rhythm and an affect. Altman is very good at that, for instance. So is Jean Renoir. I compared her voice to water above but really it’s about neutrality, as you say. About the tone of the whole, every part has to kind of vibrate on the same internal register. It’s impossible to describe or name that register but I know when something is off from it.
Though the questions are very different, I experienced something similar growing up in West Texas as a Bangladeshi American. There was an empathy about having people try to categorize you when you cannot be so easily categorized. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what it means when there is no vocabulary, or language, or even space given for you, as a being, outside of certain prescribed categories. In a lot of ways, these women seemed to me to be outside the usual categories. Their stories cannot be seen as either personal or political. They have to be seen as both simultaneously.
“When a story is working, it feels like method acting. And I can tell when a story isn’t working — and those are the ones that didn’t make it into the book — because I’m still thinking so much more about the situation than the person. If the people aren’t living with me, then it doesn’t work.” Talking with Molly Antopol.
Not caught up on the emerging Hermione/Ron scandal? Here’s a recap: a few days ago, J.K. Rowling not only said in an interview conducted by Emma Watson that she regretted pairing up Harry Potter’s best friends, she also said that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together. “[Pairing Hermione and Ron] was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility,” she said. “Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.” (This might be a good time to revisit Michelle Dean on the series.)
I don’t know who God is, or any of that. People concerned with those questions turn up in my stories, but I can’t explain why they do. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t.
I’ve read MIDDLEMARCH lots of times, but it never told me what to do, and it certainly didn’t tell me what not to do. And if it did tell me not to do something, I didn’t not do it. We make our own mistakes, and learn from our own experience. But reading is part of your experience. If you love literature, literature is part of your life. It’s not an external thing.
You are saying you do not exist in the American dream except as a nightmare.