Your story in this issue, “State of Variance,” is the story of a woman who has been troubled by symmetry in her life and then watches her son struggle through life because his face is too symmetrical. The launching-off point of this story seems to be the way a mother’s health and lifestyle during pregnancy can influence a child’s entire life. What inspired you to dig into this topic?
I think it was largely an interest in patterns and what patterns get passed along unexpectedly. I had actually read some article once in a magazine that said women responded more to men who had symmetrical faces, which just seemed bizarre and awfully hard to track. And, I can think of strange moments in my life when I saw a loved one’s face in a mirror and for whatever reason, they looked like a Picasso. Have you had this? Mirrors can change symmetry somehow—I have no idea why or if this is a common experience.
I really enjoy the surreal moments when the mother mixes her dreams into her waking life, little hallucinations and confusions. Have you ever had any moments like that?
Thanks! I definitely have had those moments where a dream from the night before surfaces briefly in my mind while I’m doing something ordinary and I can just barely hold it and then it’s gone. A reminder of this whole other life we have spent sleeping, in that elusive image-based world. I love that that is a basic part of being human: living in both worlds at once, at any given moment.
The family in this story stands out as interesting and slightly disjointed. What are some of your favorite dysfunctional families in literature or film?
I just saw The Squid and the Whale again, which is a favorite film of mine—there’s real beauty in the way the kids are portrayed and so much genuine pain. Also I’m about to teach one of my favorite novels, Cruddy, which is about a stupendously dysfunctional father/daughter relationship that is so funny and ridiculously dark. I’ve never taught it before and I love Lynda Barry and feel a little nervous— sometimes teaching something I love so much is not always the best move. If the students don’t like it, I’ll have to make an effort not to get offended. I also just love George Saunders’ family in “Sea Oak” which takes the idea of resentful martyrdom to a new stratosphere.
My favorite part of this story is the scene in the coffeehouse, with Marty and the tight businessman. It’s a fight scene, in a way, but it’s a very civilized and methodical fight. It reminds me very much of Fight Club or perhaps a friendly local boxing club, someplace where aggression has been carefully structured. What do you think about activities (like very competitive sports or the martial arts) which provide a supervised, ritualized outlet for violence?
I think it’s my favorite part too. When I read it aloud once I was struck by the fact that Marty is the only named character until Sherrie-Marla enters the scene. So he stands out to me—he’s fully himself, and arrived on the scene named and whole. I do think those kinds of sports are crucial—a way to safely express what can easily get turned into something awful. I’ve never been a fan of watching boxing but I used to think it was horrible and now I can see how it’s actually a better alternative in a lot of ways for people who have grown up with violence. At least it’s less chaotic. I did want to hint that that businessman guy didn’t like the structure and would’ve loved to finally release all that anger on the young man, but Marty, at that point, knew better.
It’s silly, but I can’t help wondering how things progressed with the mother’s suitors after the end of this story. I like imagining her dating the two weekend companions forever. Do you know what happened to them?
I don’t know!—I’m left where you are at the end of a story. But I like what you imagine—seems highly possible.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this story? And do you have anything coming up that you’d like to tell our readers about?
I don’t think so. Good questions. I believe I’ll have a story out in One Story sometime in the next year but I’m not sure when.
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