|By William Cuthbertson
|Short story A Real Doll | Review of The End of Alice | Interview in Spanish
Always controversial, Ms Homes hit the media-fan
most recently with the UK release of The End of Alice, where it was
banned by the NSPCC and sent critics into a tizzy over the shocking subject
matter which was, and this the stickler, so bloody "literarily competent."
Here in Spain where critics and readers are generally a bit more relaxed Alice will be released by Anagrama sometime in 1998. It has already
been published in Denmark by Lindhardt, in Norway by TidensNorsk, Sweden
by Leander Malmstem, the Netherlands by Anthos, Italy by Bompiani, Portugal
by Noticias, and will soon be released in France by Belfond. We were fortunate
to catch Ms Homes druing her busy schedule for the following interview,
conducted via e-mail.
BR: Though it may be unfair to do so, it's very easy to see your work as part of a larger group of writers who use the novel as a confessionary for issues of sexual violence--Beth Nugent, Mary Karr, and Kathryn Harrison, for example. Do you see this type of fiction as its own genre? Is there a movement of abuse fiction going on?
AMH: I don't see my work as belonging to or affiliated with any particular group. I also don't think there's any particular movement or genre of abuse fiction known as "abuse fiction." Perhaps this is a group you are constructing independently. I am not interested in assembling groups of books and calling that a theme or movement.
BR: You've said elsewhere that you're interested in examining American or even contemporary morality. Have you come to any conclusions, preliminary or concrete?
AMH: I am interested in morality, but wouldn't presume to come to any conclusions--let's call it an ongoing investigation.
BR: Do you have any thoughts on the Glen Ridge, New Jersey rape/murder trial, as it pertains to a collective morality?
AMH: Unfortunately, I didn't follow the case carefully enough to comment.You might want to look at a new book by Bernard Lefkowitz who teaches with me at Columbia.
AMH: The End of Alice was my fourth book and while there's a lot of sex in the book, it is a novel about ideas, about culture, morality and sexuality. I am not interested in being a spokesperson for anything. I am interested in writing fiction which raises questions, which provokes discussion. I think it is the job of fiction--of art in general--to generate work which encourages people to look at themselves and the world we live in more closely, or perhaps from a different point of view.
AMH: I'm not sure what you're getting at. Fiction and non-fiction are so incredibly different. A writer creating fiction is pulling characters out of the air, creating people where there were none--an entirely different experience from writing something based on fact, on things that actually happened.
AMH: Appendix A was assembled as an elaboration on The End of Alice. It's like the liner notes to a record album, a chance to see the process; the bits and pieces that are part of creating a fiction: characters, setting etc. While writing The End of Alice, I collected old photographs, and other bits and pieces not realizing they would amount to an album. I simply found them along the way and thought: this could be the narrator as a kid, this could be the place where something happened. At the end of writing the book-- it occurred to me that they were like a fictional photo album. So, getting back to your question, Appendix A has nothing to do with the lines between fiction and non-fiction. It is entirely a fiction.
AMH: I do write non-fiction. Frequently.
AMH: I write frequently on art and art-related subjects. I am especially interested in photography, but also a big painting and sculpture fan.
AMH: I wouldn't say that there's a connection between making art and writing. But I have found that there are times when one can't find words and the act of painting, the use of gesture, color, abstraction, can be quite liberating. The unfortunate thing is that I often don't allow myself the time to paint--its become a luxury. I've known many artists, writers, and musicians who also work or play in other forms. Creativity seems best served when it isn't limited to a single expression.
AMH: I don't know.
AMH: To clarify, the book wasn't banned by the NSPCC, they called for the withdrawal of the publication and then for a ban--but they have no authority to ban a book. The W.H. Smith ban is also kind of a unarticulated joke in that according to the publisher W.H. Smith mostly carries very commercial fiction and had never ordered the book--they announced the "ban," only after the NSPCC thing exploded. Also, just for clarity--I love clarity, I didn'treally go on a promotional tour of London, unless you call riding around in taxis a tour. I went for the publication of the book--not having a clue that the books release would erupt into a national "situation." The events that followed the NSPCC outcry were very interesting, on a historical level--it isn't every day a book is banned, and on a more personal level. I found it very interesting that in England the big concern seemed to be that The End of Alice would give pedophiles fantasies and that therefore the book was dangerous. I find this thinking flawed on several levels. 1. Pedophiles already have fantasies--I don't have to give them any. 2. The End Of Alice wouldn't really be very exciting for a pedophile to read given that thenarrator is in jail, and has been in jail, being punished for his crimes, for the last 23 years and isn't getting out any time soon. 3. Just how many pedophiles do they have in England anyway, the level of concern was so incredibly high, you'd think there was one on every corner--I am being ironic, but my point is I think people have a hard time with this book because it does make them think about things that are discomfiting--and while they might not like the book--I think that's okay. The point of serious literature, and I do think of this book as a serious book, not an entertainment, is to reflect the culture we live in. Given what's on the front pages of newspapers--most days when they're not trying to ban a book--I think The End of Alice does begin to reflect something very disturbing about the world we live in.
In the UK they asked me--if I had any friends and if I'd slept with my brother, in the US they simply asked, what did my mother think of the book--really strange questions either way. I think the kind of questions people ask, the assumption that the work is somehow true is curious in that it reflects that we are at a moment culturally where we've forgotten the imagination. Writing a novel is an act of the imagination--that's what I enjoy most about writing, the chance to explore worlds other than my own.
AMH: The role of evidence? Again, I don't know what you're getting at. But I get the feeling you're trying to interpret the work in a way that just doesn't fit. The title of my short story collection, The Safety of Objects came from the art world/critical theory/psychoanalytic concept of Object, and also from the way in which we use "things"--cars, houses, toys, people--to define and comfort ourselves.
AMH: I have no experience with "recovery." Again, you're applying your own notions about abuse, recovery, personal narrative, to the work. These are not areas I work from, they are not relevant.
AMH: My ideas tend to come from "non-fiction" concepts, meaning that they occur in response to things going on in the culture. They are often explorations of specific ideas or themes that interest me--although the theme or idea is not necessarily overt in the story.
AMH: I name a lot of characters "Jody."
AMH: Someone named Jody lived on my street when I was growing up. We're still friends.
AMH: It wears off slowly.
AMH: I don't feel the need to separate myself from the work, but often things happen that pull me away from it for a period of time--other teaching, writing commitments, etc. A work of fiction develops best when the writer is able to spend a lot of time with the characters, the ideas,uninterrupted. It is the creation of a world, of people that never existed before being pulled out of the ether--that's something that takes a lot of time.
AMH: Of course.
AMH: I am reading non-fiction on the subject of marriage. I am readingthe novels of Richard Yates, of John Cheever and others and studying up on the progress of suburban life. I am also very interested in Russian Literature and read a lot of non-fiction. I love biographies.
AMH: I listen to a lot of classical music when I am writing--Bach, Chopin,Glen Gould playing the piano.
AMH: It seems off the point to talk about what my mother thinks of my work--suffice to say that I once did a reading of the Barbie story in a bookstore with my whole family there, including my grandmother who is in her 90s. What's a Barbie? She asked me later and I showed her one. Why is it called The Safety of Objects, she asked, and I explained.
You seem to have a recurring question or concern about how I assimilate what goes on in my stories into everyday life. I am a fiction writer, I work from my imagination, in response to things going on in the culture. Your morning newspaper is filled with things far more frightening than my stories. What I find difficult, if anything, is that in order to write, one must spend a lot of time alone, one is somewhat separated from other people who get up in the morning and go to the office--I dream of going to an office.
AMH: Oh please. I should be writing a novel right now . . .