Women We Read This Week

Claire Messud interviewed by Alex Clark in The Guardian

I’ve come late to Claire Messud: I picked up The Last Life on a whim last weekend – it was on a table piled high with paperbacks for sale at the farmers’ market, and I brought it home and fell right into it, full of remarkably un-jealous admiration. Here, interviewed by Alex Clark, Messud speaks about her latest novel, gender (“The girl who doesn’t sit at the table is a failed girl”), and, of course, writing:

When she was in college, Messud remembers, she would do all the necessary groundwork and then she’d think: “I don’t want to write it, the teacher doesn’t want to read it, couldn’t I just submit the notes and we’d be done?” “If you know what you’re doing,” she tells me, “it’s not interesting. It has to be a challenge, it has to seem impossible and urgent to do it. And then you do it.”


Michelle García “Mexico’s City of Dogs” in Aljazeera America

If I pitched this story to an editor, a story about the fate of dogs in violence-ridden Juárez, Mexico, I have no doubt that editors would tell me it was “not marketable.” How many times have I heard that phrase? And yet, the author, Michelle García, takes a subject that doesn’t seem particularly powerful, and writes right down to the bones, writes a story that captures the way extreme violence becomes normalized, leaving nothing unscathed.

It was in these years of upheaval, animal advocates say, that cases of abuse and mutilation began to appear. Mutts with legs severed clean suggested the work of criminal groups practicing human dismemberment. There was no way to know for sure. In this city with a conviction rate of less than five percent, few investigations in human cases produced results, much less with animals.

This story is about much more than dogs – it is about international corporations paying poverty wages, about people forced to abandon homes and pets, about a culture in which it has become easy to blame violence on “brutality” or “immorality” without actually analyzing the economic violence at the roots of it all.            —Alice

“The Art of Not Belonging,” Dwyer Murphy interviews Edwidge Danticat in Guernica

For the second week in a row, it’s worth drawing attention to yet another interview with Edwidge Danticat, whose most recent novel, Claire of the Sea Light, was just released. In this Guernica interview, Danticat examines her hybrid identity as a Hatian-American and how it manifests in her writing. Her books come to her in Creole, she explains, and she translates into English as she writes.

In response to Wikipedia’s decision to move her out of  the “American novelists” category and into “Hatian Women Writers,” Danticat says:

Isn’t that something? The funniest reaction to all of this came from someone who was shocked that, with a name like Edwidge, I am even a woman. … I don’t see any reason to keep micro categorizing women writers, setting them more and more apart, except to marginalize them. I’m happy that someone brought it out in the light before the categories could keep getting more and more narrow. Soon I might be [categorized by Wikipedia] in “Haitian novelists under five feet five tall.”

Later in the interview, Danticat seems to take this identity theme and apply it to her latest book, hesitant to call it either a novel or a collection of stories. “I think of it as something in between. A kind of hybrid.”               —Amanda

Monica Potts’ “What’s Killing Poor White Women?” on The American Prospect

Traversing the intersection between gender, class, education and access to health care, Monica Potts explores the decreasing life expectancy of uneducated white women. Through the lens of one woman’s story, Potts reveals a phenomenon unknown to many, and the subtle yet profound ways that lifestyle affect mortality.

Candace Opper’s “The Bridge and the Water,” on Guernica

There’s a certain mystique to the Golden Gate Bridge. Growing up in the Bay Area, I get it. And while some landmarks grow more mundane with familiarity, the Golden Gate Bridge only became more alluring to me, more representative of skirting along the edge of something–the continent, the country, the date line, a vast ocean.

So while it feels weird to say I understand the appeal of Golden Gate Bridge suicides, I do. Candace Opper sheds light on the psychology of those attracted to the landmark as a venue for suicide–some of whom hadn’t considered suicide anywhere else. She traces the contours of a mysterious lure and while I don’t come away from the piece understanding the “why” of it any more, I am convinced that there’s some power that guardrails and panic buttons can’t combat.          —Lauren


1 Comment

  • Love the interview with Messud. I, too, am late to her, but am so glad I found her at all. I’m still mystified that so much focus on The Woman Upstairs is about the likability of the character. Nora’s story was absolutely compelling to me, and I identified with her quite a bit, though I don’t consider myself an angry person at all, nor would most people who know me. Her story was real. Nora was real. The Woman Upstairs was the only book I’ve read this year that I gave my family the hand when they tried to interrupt my, stayed up past midnight for just one more chapter, and ignored my chores for. I finished it in two or three days. Claire Messud is a genius and I wish I could be her friend.

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