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
With her leap-of-faith structure, damning hilarity, irreverent precision, and a narrative voice so live that it calls you up and talks to you on the phone, Robison wrangles the illogicality of life into a battered and beautiful texture. Earlier this year the novel filched the 2002 L.A. Timesbook award from thick competition, a nick in The Corrections' publicity juggernaut.
A story: "I was in Books-A-Million [Hattiesburg's finest bookstore]. I wasn't crabbing, but I said, 'All these books are displayed up front, and this'" -- she mimes holding out her book -- "'is a recent work of fiction . . .' I learned that those racks up there are paid for by publishers. The guy said, 'There's a plan for those,' and I said, 'Well, I have a plan too.'"
"So he looks at my book and he says, 'What's this about?' I just, you know, broke down and my voice is way up there, Minnie Mouse, and I say, 'Well, it's mainly about a screenwriter?' He said, 'So it's purple prose?'It was very defeating."
Yes, both Money and Mary have slogged the screenwriting (and rewriting) trail. Robison got involved shortly after her novel Oh! was made into the film Twister (not the one with the airborne computer-generated cow), starring Crispin Glover and with an appearance by a gun-toting William Burroughs. Suddenly Robison found herself commuting to Hollywood to doctor screenplays.
"Uh. I don't have much to say about that. It was fun, but it never had much to do with writing . . . I needed the money. You want to do it, make your money, and get out."
Now she teaches in the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi (full disclosure: I'm a graduate student at the university). Right this minute, there's a beeping somewhere in her purse. She fishes out a beige plastic device and shuts it up. Next she finds a few pills and swallows them with soda.
"I have this beeper thing," she says, unapologetic. "It's handy for that moment when you can't decide, 'Was that yesterday? Was it this morning?'"
Ritalin is a guiding metaphor for Why Did I Ever as both the protagonist and the formal architecture of the novel itself struggle to maintain a semblance of control over their attention deficit disorder.
"No, this isn't Ritalin. It's something else," she says. "But yes, my drugs now are all prescription. For three or four hours Ritalin gives you an intensity of focus. Unfortunately, it's like a tap. When it's finished it just runs out. Like taking your glasses off."
The L.A. Weeklywants to know: Are neuro-pharmaceuticals good for America?
What she thinks: "People who don't believe in taking medication are probably fearful people. They're ignorant and destructive. I wouldn't take out my own appendix; there's science for that. Science can help. It can help with a great many things."
ROBISON'S LEFT SIDE IS COATED with white hair; the fat and purring Flour is the likely culprit. "It's hard to be a beatnik," Robison sighs, "with white cats."
Her publishing lull has passed. Early next month, Counterpoint is releasing Tell Me, a collection of 30 short stories, most culled from her out-of-print books, though a few are new. The process of revisiting short fiction "can only annoy you, depress you, irk you," Robison says. "You're different and you would do things differently. But there are a few surprises." "Apostasy," for example, from Robison's workshop days in Baltimore with John Barth ("The man was magic. I'd be helping in some beauty shop if it wasn't for him") still snicks with pathos and pleasure. The warm, crazed love in "Father, Grandfather," a previously unseen piece [it appears in this issue], hurts wonderfully. And a new novel is coalescing. It's about two women married to twins, and Robison promises, "I've been careful to do 30-word paragraphs. None of the smash cuts from the last novel."
Will she get it done?
"I'm a very single-minded person. Whatever I'm doing, I do so hard that you would have to use machinery to get me to stop."
Is it keeping her up nights?
"If I'm working I don't say, 'Oh no, I better go to bed.' I have the rest of my life to sleep."
Mary Robison will read fromTell Me at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., on Wednesday, November 20, at 8 p.m. (310-659-3110) and at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., on Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 p.m. (323-660-1175).
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