I wanted to start this post by saying that everybody’s done it, at least once or twice, but probably that’s not true. I know it’s a weakness. A vice even. You’re making a choice: essentially what you’re saying (or what I’m saying) is that sometimes you’re more interested in fiction than in reality and you don’t care who knows it. You’re saying, I’m willing to chuck most or probably all of my dignity, and some measure of my personal safety, and your personal safety, because it’s more important to me to keep reading this book I’m reading than it is to look where I’m going.
“Asleep in the Lord” is taken from your forthcoming novel, “The Marriage Plot,” which follows the entwined lives of its three main characters—Mitchell; the woman he loves, Madeleine; and the man she loves, Leonard—after they meet at university. How long have you been working on the novel? What’s it been like to be spend so much time back in the early eighties in the company of characters who are only just entering their adult lives?
I think I worked on this book about five or six years. After finishing “Middlesex,” I began another novel, which I had to abandon after a couple of years of work. Part of that novel grew into “The Marriage Plot,” however. So it wasn’t a total disaster, just the usual semi-catastrophe. Though the characters in the book are young, just getting out of college during the recession of the early eighties, they are thinking adults, passionate about each other and the books they’re reading. Writing the book meant inhabiting the consciousnesses of my three main figures, and I found this a pleasant place to be, most days. Doesn’t everyone want to be in college again?
To me, college doesn’t seem that long ago, anyway. It wasn’t hard to remember the music we listened to or the films we watched, or the way I felt back then. Much of the novel is written from the point of view of a young woman graduating from college. So, as with any book, it was more of a labor of imagination than recollection. And that was where the real pleasure came.
No cells phones to deal with, either. No personal computers. I didn’t mind that at all. I remember those days well, what my daughter calls “dinosaur times.”
My cousin Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. She and a bunch of the girls in the ghetto had to do sewing each day. And if you were found with a book, it was an automatic death penalty. She had gotten hold of a copy of ‘Gone With the Wind’, and she would take three or four hours out of her sleeping time each night to read. And then, during the hour or so when they were sewing the next day, she would tell them all the story. These girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me that story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important. Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of the things that you live and die for.