"Novels need to have an urgency about them..." (a moment with Meg Wolitzer)
A few years back, I asked my editor at Random House to suggest a "Writers Who'll Make Me a Better Writer" reading list. One of the first names out of her mouth was Meg Wolitzer. An author to watch, Meg had a movie deal in motion for Surrender, Dorothy and a solid hit with The Wife at the time. Last year, her novel The Ten Year Nap gained rave reviews, and this week, it's out in trade paper. (Scroll down to yesterday's post for more on the book.)
Meg, thanks for taking a moment to chat with us today. Before we get down to the business, how's it going? Is all well and groovy in Megworld?
All is well and groovy, indeed.
With The Ten-Year Nap coming out in trade paper, it's current popularity with book clubs is bound to beef up exponentially. There's a lot to discuss in this book. How has the book club response been so far, and what's your hope for the focus of future conversations?
I think book clubs have been tremendous for writers, and in particular I think they've been useful for writers whose books generate a certain kind of fierce conversation. (Although, having just written that, I think that any good book can generate fierce conversation. You can get all fired up reading Nabokov's Pale Fire--not necessarily in dissent, but in excitement or even bewilderment.) I have met some women in book groups who have read my book, and some of them have come to readings I've given, which is always gratifying.
I don't know what my hope is, exactly, for future conversations, but I think if readers are talking about your book, that can't be a bad thing. Books become marginalized in the culture if no one talks about them. If they go undiscussed, then they are in danger of becoming like scrimshaw or lute-playing: of interest mostly to the craftspeople who do the thing, and not to many other people. Conversation--even when it's critical, and I'm sure some of the conversation about my book is critical, not that I'm there to hear it--is essential.
There’s been a dramatic shift in the economic and political climate since The Ten Year Nap was written. How do you see these changes affecting the "mommy wars" in general and these characters in particular?
I have been hoping that the mommy wars will sort of subside, given the fact that we are all in trouble. I don't think this is a moment in which people are turning on one another. There's no time for that now. Though The Ten-Year Nap was written before the so-called downturn, which sounds like too gentle a term, doesn't it?--the novel was certainly not free of financial anxiety. In fact, I think it was kind of riddled with it. The anxiety that pre-dated the economic collapse was very palpable in New York City and elsewhere, and so I put it in my novel, as a way of creating this snapshot in time.
While we're on the subject, how do you see the changes in economic and political climate affecting the publishing industry?
We've been hearing about the death of the book for a long time, but clearly the book may be reimagining itself in different forms right now because of technology. I for one need a book in my hand--an actual book-shaped object, as opposed to a screen with a faux-page on it, although my sons have been encouraging me to read things on my iphone lately. (The screen is so small that I am reminded of the pleasures of reading the Maurice Sendak "Nutshell Library," which had tiny books in it, including "Chicken Soup with Rice," and "Pierre.") But another concern is what will happen to the novel. We live in an information-based world at the moment, and novels need to make the case that a piece of writing that is thoughtful and perhaps discursive and that doesn't state its "point" up front is just as necessary as a non-fiction book. Novels need to have an urgency about them, even if it's a quiet urgency.
A lot of "Boxing the Octopus" readers are aspiring or emerging writers working hard to get publishing careers in motion. Yesterday, I mentioned some of the milestones of your success, but I'm curious, if you had one professional do-over, what would it be?
Well, to be honest, while I like my first novel Sleepwalking, I don't truly feel attached to any of my novels until The Wife. When I wrote The Wife, I had begun figuring out what I wanted to do as a writer. I started writing very young, so it was a long trajectory.
Thanks again for your time, Meg. Before we let you get back to the salt mine, I have to ask: What are you reading?
I am reading Nabokov's Pale Fire, as mentioned above, and also the sequel to Stieg Larsson's Swedish thriller, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has only appeared in the UK thus far, and Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. McEwan is one of my favorite writers.