Thursday, April 11, 2019

The brilliant Myla Goldberg talks about art, ownership, mothers and daughter and her astonishing new novel, FEAST YOUR EYES--and, oh yes, why chocolate must have 65% cacao to be even considered edible.

THE book
Portrait of the genius 

You know that anything that Myla Goldberg writes is going to be brilliant, evocative, and a book you will inhabit. FEAST YOUR EYES, about art, mothers and daughters, and how far we can push those boundaries, is both structurally innovative, and also deeply, deeply moving. And yes, a little disturbing, too, but that is a plus. I'm not the only one to love this novel. Take a look at these raves:

A mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit.” —Lit Hub

“From Bee Season (2000) onward, Goldberg has portrayed girls and young women with fluent sensitivity. In her brilliantly structured fourth novel, she revisits the theme again, in the story of photographer Lillian Preston, who, chronically shy yet determined, flees Cleveland for New York in 1953 at 17 and becomes an accidental single mother at 19... This is a novel of infinite depth, of caring authenticity both intimate and societal, of mothers and daughters, art and pain, and transcendent love.”
—Booklist, STARRED

“A riveting portrait of an artist who happens to be a woman.”
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED

“Goldberg evocatively profiles a brilliant woman whose identities—as woman, artist, and mother—are inseparable from one another... a memorable portrait of one artist’s life.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Reading Myla Goldberg’s Feast Your Eyes reminded me of other unlikely adventure stories, like Hillary’s summit of the Himalayas, or Shackleton’s return from Antarctica. Only here the human constraints are still more challenging: making art as a single mother in a twentieth century dominated, and distorted, by men. This is an unflinching, deeply moving portrait of the artist, and a bravura performance in and of itself. I loved this book.”
—Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

 Myla Goldberg is is a bestselling novelist, winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, the NYPL Young Lions award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover award, and recipient of a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant.  She writes and teaches in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband Jason Little and their two daughters.

Thank you so much for being here, Myla. 

I always think that writers write the books that truly haunt them. What happened that made you know that this is the novel you had to write next?

What happened to me was children.  As I struggled to be the mother I wanted to be, while simultaneously struggling to be the writer I wanted to be, I found myself wondering if there were any examples of excellent artists who were also excellent, engaged parents.  Is it possible to be both or does one ambition require compromising the other?

I absolutely love the structure of the novel, how it pulls you in through catalogue entries. I never realized how brilliantly a story could be told that way.  What were some of the triumphs in working this way—and some of the writerly pitfalls for you?

I love coming across a book that explores a story in an unexpected way, so playing with a new approach to story was exhilarating.  I get tired of telling stories that toddle along all conventional-like: I get bored.  But, oh, the pitfalls!  Trying to keep the entries consistently relevant was hard – how to tie the photo into what was happening in the larger story without it seeming forced?  How to make the reader consistently care about a photo when exciting and distracting things were happening elsewhere?  Then there were all the first-person voices: I hate it when I read a novel that proports to be told from several different characters’ perspectives, and instead all I get are very slight variations on the author.  After a while, I got tired of complaining about this and decided I could retain complaining rights only if I tried it myself.  So this book is me, trying. 

 What startled you the most about your research, and was there anything that made you rethink your plot?

Reading about abortion in the pre-Roe v. Wade era was more than startling: it was horrifying.  I knew, intellectually, that it was difficult to obtain an abortion at that time, but I had no concept of what it actually entailed.  What I learned about the paucity of information and lack of access to birth control, as well as the dangers and risks of finding and getting an abortion left an indelible mark on the story.  Another biggie was what I learned about women and New York City’s criminal justice system in the early 60s.  I modeled Lillian’s experience of jail on the experiences of women in the only dedicated women’s prison in the city at that time, a prison that was torn down several years later after the scale of the human rights violations perpetrated inside its walls was revealed.     

Do you think that all art has a cost? And that everything is art?     

Every choice we make has a cost. One of the things that scares me most about these times is our collective inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that.

I have to ask because I am suffering over titling my novel, how do you come up with your titles? This one Feast Your Eyes, is particularly great.   
Oy, titles.  This one took me many years to stumble over.  Previously, my titles always came quickly, so not having a title for this book for so long really threw me.  Finally, I sat down to read it when I was in editing mode, keeping an eye out for phrases that resonated for the larger book.  “Feast your eyes” are the words Lillian’s daughter uses to start her first catalog entry, and as soon as I saw them, I knew.
What’s obsessing you now and why?

The arbitrary nature of our country’s immigration system. The rules that govern if someone can stay or go, and the subjective nature of those rules’ interpretation by a judge are mind-boggling.  There is nothing constitutional about it, and it shames me that the ready answer to that observation is that the constitution is only meant to apply to citizens.

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

Bare minimum is 65% cacao.  Anything less doesn’t taste like chocolate to me.

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