By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
What about the model of George Eliot, or the BrontÃ«s?
But even those are romances with hard-to-get guys, and guys that are impossible. I don’t want to sound doctrinaire, but they’re defined by “This is a world where men are all-powerful and the best thing you can do is to get one of them.”
In the prologue toThe Handyman, which looks back on the action from 2027, you foresee an art that “cast[s] off the debilitating angst of the 20th century, and the ever more conceptual art that had become the emblem of its anomie and affectlessness, so popular then, so dated now.”
I think that we’ve had it with the Age of Anxiety, just simply because it’s been going on for 85 years. I don’t know, but I would think that 85 years is long enough. Unless things happen that are so much worse — AIDS begins to spread like the common cold, something like that. But even then, during the plague years, for instance, London was a very jolly place, they had a great time. So I just think there might be a change in mood. I postulate that. I speculate on that.
What would you like to see come after?
Just something where it doesn’t start at depression and get worse. I’ve got nothing against depression. I come from a family of depressives. I’ll match suicides with anyone. But it’s just because of that, that I think it might be interesting to try something else. To see what would happen.
I’m not really an optimist, I just think it would be nice to hypothesize that we could . . . do things a little better. But that’s just a hypothesis. I don’t know if that’s true.
You write a lot about suffering and the possibility of choosing not to suffer.
I think The Handyman is a very subversive book, because what if — and again, here I am sounding pretentious — but what if everybody just took that kind of “My ego is in abeyance” attitude? Because he comes from a position of despair: “My ego is in abeyance, I can’t get to it right now, so I’m just going to address the matter at hand, whatever it is, and see what I can do.” I mean, that would be almost a post-Christian society. And we have the ability to do that — we just don’t feel like it.
Again, I know how pretentious this sounds, but I was lecturing my students to go out with the keen, trained eye of a novelist, and one came back and said, “I don’t think I want to do that, because I went into Target, and there was a deaf salesperson trying to help someone buy something, and they were yelling at the deaf salesperson — it was so horrible I couldn’t bear it.” And I said, “Well, one thing you could do is get out of Target and look somewhere else.” But the other thing is, once you start looking, it’s all there. It’s all there. But most of what we try to do is not pay attention, because it’s too disturbing.
I went to some alternative-medicine skin guy last week just for the hell of it. I told him my mind raced, and he said, “What you need is calming cream to put on your ankles and your wrists.” But you don’t need the calming cream. Your mind races for a reason — it’s not a bad thing.
You have to wonder whether a perfectly contented person would become an artist. In a really happy world, maybe no one would make art, and that might be fine.
That’s part of the dynamic I don’t understand: If you were contented, would art come out? If you were ecstatic, would art come out? Actually, I’m thinking of John Donne — not that I often do — but he appears to have been exceedingly contented, and in control — whatever that means — of his life, and this wonderful stuff came out of it. Frankly, I don’t even know how that works. And I think that’s partly what The Handyman is about: We don’t know what it would be like to be exceedingly happy and with an artistic vision. We don’t know what that would be.
I’m not very capable of abstract spiritual thought, but I saw Shirley MacLaine on Good Morning America today, and they were calling her “Squirrelly Shirley,” and Charlie Gibson was saying, “The great minds of our generation have wrestled with these spiritual things and they still doubt and how can you be so sure?” And she was like, “There’s nothing to it.” And I began to think, If you’re asked to believe in one god, three divine persons and the 12 disciples and the parting of the waters, that’s kind of a stretch. But if you’re asked to believe that this is a sentient universe, that’s no stretch at all. You’d have to be pretty stupid not to — it’s a sentient universe. It’s no biggie. You don’t have to believe in it — it’s here.
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