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
You obviously enjoy writing about women, which is one of the nice things about the book. It‘s a guy’s book in a way, and yet women are at the center of it.
I‘ve always been much more interested in women than men. Guy talk is very uninteresting to me. I was once at a party for Nancy Lemann, it was a book party and so there were all of these New Republic, Newsweek, Harvard, yuppie journalists, and an incredibly attractive batch of female fiction writers. These guys formed a conversational circle and paid no attention to the women in the room at all. They were all doing shoptalk. “Did you hear who Charlie Peters hired at the Washington Monthly? I hear Spy has an attack coming out on so-and-so.” In fact, as I recall, Nancy’s fiance was in a separate room because there was a Knicks game on. He was watching a Knicks game with his friends at his girlfriend‘s book party. And every so often you’d hear a roar of applause because the Knicks had scored a three-pointer. I couldn‘t believe how unsexed these guys were. It was hilarious.
Where did you get all this relationship advice that Darlene spouts? Did you actually go and read a few self-help books?
I did read those, but they actually were not that helpful. I had a lot of Southern female friends. They were not girlfriends, but they were female friends, and they were incredibly sharp about men and women. In fact, one of the things that fascinated me was this notion that Southern women are sort of Southern belles, la-di-da, lounge around -- these gals were spitfires. Some of them would come up North and say, “I’m amazed at the way Northern women behave. And they wonder why they don‘t have a boyfriend?” Northern women would often have this attitude of “You’re probably going to screw me over because that‘s what men do and that’s what‘s been happening to me and you’re no better than the rest. So treat me right by hurting me!” In fact, one Southern woman once said to me -- this was at a party I‘d thrown -- “I could take the man away from any woman at a this party. Not because I’m better-looking, I just know how to do it.”
The New York Post ran an item about you in which they referred to your book as “lowbrow.” What do you say to that charge?
Lowbrow, highbrow, middlebrow -- these categories have become completely arbitrary. Stephen King was considered lowbrow until he started publishing in The New Yorker; now even his trashiest stuff gets respectful treatment. Joyce Carol Oates has always been a trashy lowbrow decked out as a tortured highbrow. I knew when I started the novel that if I didn‘t write something inside and packed with allusions I would be accused of slumming. But I wanted someone who had never read or heard of me -- the vast majority out there -- to be able to pick up the novel on a whim and become engrossed in the story and characters. I never assumed there was an audience out there panting for a novel just because it was by me.
Has the experience of writing The Catsitters made you feel any different about reviewing novels yourself?
It gives me a better sense of how it works internally. And I’m much more sympathetic now to what a writer goes through, and how hard it is to actually have a career, to actually bring out the fourth or fifth novel, because there are so many things working against you. Not only bad reviews, but a general indifference to your work, the sense that you‘re no longer the flavor of the month. What will probably change in my reviewing is that I now won’t be reviewing people bringing out their first novel, unless it‘s a novel that’s getting a huge amount of attention and can‘t be ignored. I feel now I’ve been around long enough, it would be kind of bullying.
Who were the critics that influenced you?
I was incredibly sympathetic to Marvin Mudrick, who was one of my favorite critics. He wrote a review of Susan Sontag that is the most hilarious, brilliant, totally disrespectful piece ever written on Sontag. He didn‘t take her seriously for a moment. He deconstructed her writing and showed how the same words appeared in essay after essay. He also threw in a shot at Elizabeth Hardwick that shocked the hell out of the New York publishing world, because nobody had ever dared to take a poke at Hardwick. He quotes some of the Hardwick introduction to the Susan Sontag Reader -- this ardent introduction -- and then says, “They should both take a cold shower -- preferably not together.” People couldn’t believe it. He was utterly fearless.
My models were always Jewish hipsters like Mudrick, Albert Goldman, Seymour Krim, Manny Farber. I‘m not Jewish myself, but these guys to me -- they were the real swingers, all of them incredibly funny writers. Manny Farber’s film criticism was brilliantly hilarious.
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