Monday, January 23, 2012

Hilma Wolitzer talks about An Available Man

I loved this novel so much, I blurbed it! In the wake of her fantastic New York Times review, I am honored to have Hilma on here today writing about writing. Thank you, Hilma!

Looking for an Available Man

When I began to write An Available Man, I was thinking more about available women, those friends and relatives who’d suddenly found themselves single again through divorce or a spouse’s death.  Some of them were content to be on their own, but others were longing to be part of a couple again.  I heard a lot of horror stories about online dating: men who lied about their age (by up to 25 years!), photo-shopped themselves into Brad Pitt, tried to cop a feel right after (or during) a coffee date, or had the creepy look and demeanor of serial killers.  Occasionally, I’d be asked, wistfully, if I happened to know of anyone nicer, more suitable.

Like Jane Austen’s Emma and Sholem Aleichem’s Yente, I’ve always had an impulse for matchmaking, usually with a stunning lack of success.  My heart was in the right place, I suppose—why should anyone be lonely?—but I just didn’t seem to have a talent for pairing people up.  The general consensus was: what was she thinking?!  Sometimes, I was told, it was even hate at first sight. 

I started to think I’d have more luck writing a novel about looking for love the second time around.  What if my protagonist was someone recently widowed whose (well-meaning) friends try to fix her up?  And what if she goes online?  I had a lot of material to build on: all those reported dates from hell—the raunchy and/or impotent men, the cheapskates, the scary ones. 

But weren’t there any decent guys out there?  And how did they meet women?  How did they feel about blind dates, about loneliness, and horniness?  The more I thought about it, the more I began to envision a newly available man named Edward Schuyler.  Soon I was hooked on the idea of writing from the male perspective, not my usual POV.  I worried a little (in a twist on Freud) if I knew enough about what a man wants.  And I’d once heard that Renoir claimed he painted with his penis.  Unfortunately, I’m not similarly equipped, but men have been writing about women’s inner lives for centuries, and I believe it’s possible for women to also imagine the ultimate other, and the other side of the story. 

I came to like and care about Edward, the way I do for most of my heroines, and I wanted him to find happiness.  He seemed like the perfect match for so many of my witty, sensitive, attractive friends.   It’s just too bad he’s not real. 

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