Thursday, March 29, 2018

Supersonically acclaimed Meg Wolitzer talks about gender politics and her sublime new novel THE FEMALE PERSUASION

First, the raves:

 "Uncannily timely, a prescient marriage of subject and moment that addresses a great question of the day." –The New York Times

"Ultra-readable. . . illuminates the oceanic complexity of growing up female and ambitious." –Vogue

"The perfect feminist blockbuster for our times." –Kirkus, starred review

 Meg Wolitzer is truly one of the most generous authors around. Kind, funny (and she also has a kind and funny writer mom, Hilma Wolitzer), Meg champions writers, and despite her huge fame, remains down to earth. She's the New York Times–bestselling author of The Interestings, The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, The Position, The Wife, and Sleepwalking. She is also the author of the young adult novel Belzhar I would read her grocery list, and am thrilled to host her here. Thank you so, so much, Meg.

So much of the brilliant The Female Persuasion is about how we can redefine what it means to be a woman, how other women can help—or hurt us in our careers and in our lives. Faith, an older mentor, makes the younger Greer’s head “crack open in college.” She changed her—and they changed each other. But as Greer ages, she comes to reexamine what has gone on with them, and to realize that what women must do is pass on what they’ve learned to other women, to be better people, to tell the truth. Can you talk about this please?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: the ways we help one another, and influence one another, and, for better or worse, change one another. It can often be intergenerational, or of course intragenerational. Early in life, being helped, or being taken up by someone, is particularly exciting, and can feel like the natural course of events. But it’s interesting--I was talking to a performer in her 50s who noted that sometimes younger women in her field assumed that older women would behave maternally toward them simply because of the age disparity. It’s best, of course, when there’s a real affection and a sense of connection.

Have you had mentors of your own and what was that like? (I think you have because of your wonderful dedication… ) Have you mentored anyone and found your own ideas challenged because of it? There’s an idea in your novel that as we grow, we sometimes grow out of our mentor. Or maybe we just don’t need the mentor, anymore.  

Yes, the women on the dedication page were all very generous toward me when I was young, and I have never forgotten it. It’s moving to me even now. It was extraordinary to have someone see something in me, perhaps before I really saw it in myself. We all need people at different times in our lives, and that need can change and grow, or even eventually recede, which can be bewildering, and is worth looking at.

So much of the world is changing (at least I hope it is), with women running for office now because of the absolutely misogynist Trump, with women taking on more power, and women refusing to be undercut.  For years, I heard that for women writers to succeed like males, they had to write “bigger books.”  But perhaps women writers should succeed the way they want, no? And if so, what does that mean? I read the blurb from EW which said, “This isn’t women’s fiction. It’s everyone’s.” But what does that mean? Why can’t fiction just be fiction, do you think?

I know that, for myself, I want to write the book I want to read, so I try to hew as close to that as I can.

Having owned a tortoise for 20 years, I especially appreciated the wonderfully-named Slowy, though he is turtle, rather than tortoise, which is a big difference. And you got the details about him just right.  But I also loved Corey’s business-to-be called Soul Finder, which arises out of his inability to get over a family death, the yearning to have people be the same in your life, no matter what.  Can you talk about this, please?

I was nipped on the face when cuddling our box turtle Pumpkin when I was young, but apparently it didn’t keep me away from turtles forever, because I have returned with a novel that does indeed include one. Slowy simply exists (slowly) in the middle of a family that has suffered a terrible tragedy. And his owner, Cory Pinto, creates a video game that allows grieving people to have a chance to be with the person they’ve lost once again. I feel that the dream we’ve all had (or at least which I’ve certainly had more than once) in which you see the person who’s died, only to wake up suddenly, bewildered at the fact that that didn’t actually happen, inspired this part of the book. I wanted to look at the intractably baffling nature of loss.

What kind of writer are you? You make it seem so effortless. Has having your novels made into films given you a new sense of story structure?

For me it is, instead, effortful. I work a lot, like most writers, and try to think often during that process about what it is I am trying to do, and then return to that intention as much as possible. I don’t think the films have given me a new sense of story structure. I didn’t write them; other people did, and I admire them.  I myself tend to go on a few different side-trips in my novels.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Politics, of course. The fact that all of this has happened to us… And how to be productive in the midst of madness.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

As always, Caroline, you are a close and wonderful reader, and I thank you so much for that.

1 comment:

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

great interview about a very important book

-Leora Skolkin-Smith