After I read Alice Munro’s stunning collection, The Love of a Good Woman, I read an article that dissected the way violence turns her stories though the stories themselves rarely incorporate violence. In other words, violence is peripheral as an occurrence, and central as an action.
When I began thinking about A Field Guide to Deception, I had a girl who has stolen something, and believes she has gotten away with her theft, only to find the body of her closest friend in the trunk of her car. And then I started to think about how much more interesting it would be to steal a lot of money and get away with it. Not be hunted. Not be caught.
What is your life like when it’s based on a lie?
I don’t care about the action of stealing. That is less interesting to me than the emotional life afterward. My stories turn on violence too. And it’s there all along. In Field Guide in particular, the violence is inevitable from the first pages.
Atonement turns on a word in a letter. Cunt. The whole book. All the tragedy and horror stems from that word in a letter, handed to a girl by mistake.
The Modernists were trying to get at something. At the complexity of the way we think. The rambling, miraculous life of the mind. But they missed something else entirely. That we have deep emotional lives and those lives are often at odds with our values, with our impulses, with our actions, with our thoughts. They were moving away from plot and into consciousness. I think stories live in the middle.