Friday, September 24

Jean Hanff Korelitz: ‘I wanted to be a literary novelist. But I realized that I liked the plot ‘| Books

In January 2020, American novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz was “generally not in a great place,” despite the runaway success of the HBO series. The Undo, based on his novel You should have known. She was extremely anxious about a new virus in China that she was reading about (she reads many books on epidemiology). “I was pretty much the only person she knew at the time who was really freaking out,” she says cheerfully from her room in upstate New York, her dog Sherlock sleeping serenely beside her. “And I was Really freaking out. It felt like we were in the early chapters of Stephen King. The support. “She was also furious about President Trump’s first impeachment, the outcome of which seemed too clear.” I think if I had been scared without being angry, or if I had been angry without being scared, I wouldn’t have been as combustible, but I was both. ” .

More personally, she was exhausted from struggling with the second draft of a novel that she refused to join. She was so nervous about a meeting with her publisher, who had already rejected the book once, that she forced her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, to go with her. He waited in a nearby coffee shop while she addressed her editors in a state of “total collapse.” Her publisher still didn’t think the book was ready, but suddenly an idea “just popped” into Korelitz’s head, and she began to sketch out a story that she herself barely knew. “I had gone to that meeting without being able to sell a novel and apparently I had left with a contract for two books, which I have never had before.

So the events “conspired in a horrible way to create this unique set of circumstances where not only did he have nothing else to do, but he didn’t want to be engaged with the world.” He stopped watching the news or reading the newspapers. When the pandemic hit, she wrote every day, starting in bed and continuing until five or six, when her husband would bring her a drink. “I didn’t make sourdough bread. I did not bake banana bread. I didn’t learn macrame. “Aside from Zoom’s ballet classes three times a week, she did nothing else for four months.” When you’re in the grip of something, it’s harder not to do it than to do it, “she says.” It has never happened. before and I don’t expect it to happen again. “

The result is The plot, which is adorned with King’s superlatives. Our novelist-protagonist Jacob Finch Bonner (took the finch from the Kill a nightingale) was once a noteworthy new author of the New York Times, but is now confined “to the special purgatory for promising writers, from which so few have emerged.” When we meet him, he’s teaching a third-rate creative writing course at Ripley University. One of his students, a first-class “jerk” named Evan Parker, claims he has a story that he can’t fail, and when he hears it, Jake can’t help but agree. A few years later, even further down, he discovers that Parker has died. “Was Jake really supposed to throw a plot like that on another writer’s grave?” As the epigraph, taken from TS Eliot, says: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Jake’s novel Cradle (geddit) becomes a sensation, but it’s not long before I receive an email from someone calling themselves “TalentedTom,” one of many nods to Patricia Highsmith, who simply says, “You’re a thief.”

The plot It raises questions about appropriation and who has the right to tell someone else’s story, an increasingly complicated topic in publication. “Plagiarizing language is boiling in oil as far as I’m concerned,” says Korelitz. But there is something murkier when it comes to the story. It’s really hard to figure out where the lines are. Imagination is such a soft matter. “

With her long silver hair, the 60-year-old author of seven novels looks like Susan Sontag in her prime. Raised in “an extremely progressive environment” by Jewish parents (who are still alive; they celebrated their father’s 95th birthday last week), Korelitz describes herself as “a lifelong atheist, but deeply tortured by the ethical guilt and moral compulsion “. Much of his fiction revolves around murky moral dilemmas like the one Jake faced. “That’s what I focus on all the time,” she says. “They do great plots. When we know we’re supposed to do one thing but do another instead, unless you’re a Ripley, that’s a problem for most of us. “

The plot gives a new dimension to the term literary thriller. In addition to being elegantly written (Korelitz started out as a poet), this is a novel in which the names of the writers, from James Patterson to Jonathan Franzen, outnumber the bloody corpses, and in which the unfamiliarity with Marilynne Robinson can be fatal. Not to mention the references to King himself, who has not only written about plagiarism but has been accused of it. Korelitz’s friend, Joyce Carol Oates, was charged by the same person, who claimed the perpetrators photographed her desk from a zeppelin, she recalls. “It’s absurd, but this was a closed case.” The novel is also very funny. Korelitz is ruthless with creative writers; she did not graduate from MFA, although she did spend a couple of years “reading books and writing poetry” at Cambridge University in the early 1980s, so “I’m not pure.” Book nerds will love it, as will fans of Gillian Flynn and Donna Tartt. The secret history.

“Oh please! From your mouth to the ears of God, ”he exclaims. Whenever she was concerned that she was overdoing it with Jake’s stratospheric success (Oprah, Spielberg, the whole thing), she would think, “I’m throwing my fantasies into this,” and then: “Girl is gone! Girl is gone did all of this. “Korelitz may now have a whole new audience that, as she says, had never heard of her until Nicole Kidman walked onto their screens in those coats on. The Undobut, as she reminds me, The plot is his seventh book. “Novels number one to six have been, ‘This is great, this is great, this is great, no one’s buying it, the end.’

“We are all Jake!” she says of her years in the desert, too recognizable. She remembers a book tour when she flew to Seattle to find only three people at the event. “It is deeply humiliating, but it is normal. For every David Sedaris or Gillian Flynn there are a million people like me, some of whom have been posting for years. “

His first two novels were “rejected everywhere.” She was pregnant and remembers telling her then agent that she had failed because now she would never have time to write a novel. “She said, ‘Maybe, but I have clients who suddenly got very organized when they had kids.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that won’t be me.’ But it was me. I got very organized. Every time I had a babysitter so I could write, I would write. I didn’t sit down. “She also made what she calls the” cynical “decision to write the kind of book that would be published. She had” a little idea “for a legal thriller, which became her 1996 book. A jury of their peers, “And boom, people wanted to publish it.” But she was divided: “I wanted to be a literary novelist. But I had realized that I liked the plot. “

Devastating charm ... Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in The Undoing.
Devastating charm … Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in The Undo. Photograph: AP

Even if The Undo turned her novel into a thriller, she finds it strange to be labeled a mystery writer. “I never read them. I don’t care who did it. I care why. ”In addition to making the perfect New York couple, the wealthier Sachs, the TV show adds much more to the original than expensive coats, and Korelitz is uncomfortable being attributed stories she didn’t write. But he had no qualms about trusting writer David E Kelley for his novel (he also adapted Liane Moriarty’s novel Big little lies for TV). “It’s like giving Picasso your thing and saying: ‘Do what you want with it.’ He had already been through the process when he wrote his fourth novel, Admission, about the ordeal of trying to get into elite American universities, was made into a movie starring Tina Fey in 2013. “I feel like it’s part of that great flow of ideas, of stories,” he says. “I loved too many adaptations that were different from the books or source material to be smug and obnoxious when it happens to me.”

Like the couple in You should have knownKorelitz’s mother was a therapist and her father was a doctor. She attributes her “love for psychopaths” to her mother, with whom she “dissected” customer stories over dinner: “She had a keen interest in indoctrinating my sister and me with this information because she wanted us not to fall prey.” to the devastating allure of these people. “While he emphasizes that the seemingly holy pediatric oncologist in his novel (played so convincingly by Hugh Grant) is not based in any way on his father, he wanted to tap into some of the culture of the” doctor like God “which was prevalent in 1950s medicine when it was formed.” If you were a psychopath and you were a doctor, you wouldn’t want to be a dermatologist or an orthopedic surgeon, you would go straight to the red-hot core of human emotion, and that’s children with illnesses. terminals “.

Although born and raised in New York, Korelitz is “a great Anglophile” and took the first opportunity to study at Cambridge. He met Muldoon at an Arvon poetry course, which he was teaching, in Lumb bank in Yorkshire, the former home of Ted Hughes. It was “almost ridiculously significant”, given the importance to her of Sylvia Plath, the subject of her first unpublished novel, whose grave is in nearby Heptonstall. “Lest it sound too romantic,” he recalls the first time he met Muldoon at the Poetry Society in London the previous fall, of which he has “zero memory.” (She tells a good story of a similar first encounter with Grant around this time: a friend asked her if she wanted to be in a movie. “I said, ‘Sure’ and I put on my best dress,” so she found herself as an extra in his first movie Privileged. “It was so magnetic that you couldn’t take your eyes off it”).

Unlike many writing pairs, Muldoon is not your first reader. “Paul doesn’t naturally gravitate toward fiction,” he says diplomatically. “I think by now you’ve read everything I’ve written, but I’m not sure.” She laughs. “We both love language. It expresses itself in different ways. But we recognize each other as addicted to this wonderful thing. “

She has finally delivered the proper name Newcomer, that difficult novel from which he took a breath to write The plot, and again anxiously awaits your editor’s response. It is the story of “a very strange family” with triplets, who have a baby with an embryo left over 20 years later. There are no murders here, “only crimes of the heart.”

Last fall, before that fateful meeting with her editor, all she “wanted in the world was a vaccine and a new president,” she says. “I wasn’t even asking for a best-selling book.” She can have that too.

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