Megan Abbott is an award winning novelist. Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University. Her latest novel, The End Of Everything, has been widely acclaimed, and is a dark tale about the loss of innocence. Megan met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about Noir and the E Book Revolution.
Do you think there are themes that are deemed acceptable for a female author to explore in fiction and which a male author would fall under moral censure for dramatising?
No, not that I can imagine. What kind of themes do you mean?
Do you think that if Marshall McLuhan is right and the medium is the message then a novelist’s exploration of gender role play is filtered differently by the reader depending on the author’s gender?
Hmm. I guess I don’t consider gender to be a “medium.” There are so many things that inform a writer’s production–their family, upbringing, class, experiences (including reading experiences), heartbreaks, disappointments–not to mention the various mysterious corridors of their own brains, the chemistry of it–that I don’t think their sex/gender can be seen as the big divider.
Who are your literary influences and why?
Raymond Chandler, for the evocation of a world that is haunting, sordid, glamorous all at once. His hold is so firm that, with a few turns of phrase, a brief lonely image, he can break your heart.
Daniel Woodrell, for a million reasons but foremost the way he breaks apart language. Whenever I get into prose cul de sac (too many sentences that feel similar to too many other sentences I’ve written already), I read a page of one of his books and the boldness with diction, sentence structure, rhythm—it invigorates. Encourages me to take risks.
Tell us about The End Of Everything.
It’s set in the 1980s suburbs and is story of Lizzie, a 13-year-old girl, whose best friend, Evie Verver, disappears. The two girls have been intensely close in that way young girls can be right before the hurricane of adolescence really begins. Lizzie has always been captivated by Evie’s whole enchanted family (a beautiful and popular sister and a handsome, charismatic dad). So, in Evie’s absence, Lizzie begins to insert herself into the investigation, determined to help find her friend, to save the family. But, of course, like all adolescents, she’s wrong about everything, beginning with herself, and the revelations that follow as the crime unfolds take her to some pretty dark places.
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
Wow, what a great quote. I am guessing it’s a version of Joan Didion’s “Writers are always selling someone out.” And I love Greene and I’m sure that piece is there—a kind of ruthlessness with the raw matter of life, the stuff that matters most—to be able to turn it to one’s own use. At times, I’ve been disgusted with myself about that. The plunder one ends up making of the experience of those around us, and those we’ve never even met. We’re all thieves, really. But for stories to work—to move and devastate as Greene’s do—there has to be that hot pulse in the heart too. The constant push of sympathy, insisting it be heard.
What are you working on now?
Right now, it’s mostly promotion for Dare Me, and the beginnings of a new novel, which feels too delicate and mutable for me to form real sentences about yet. I think I see End of Everything, Dare Me and this new one as a matched set, the dark fever dream of adolescence, but we’ll see (fingers crossed!).
What interests you as a writer about adolescence?
I think it’s the bigness of it, the age when life is most unabashedly “noir.” It’s all sex and terror and longing and chaos. Everything feels big and frightening and thrilling. The stakes feel unbearably high and everything feels precarious—it’s a time of heightened everything. And a time when you can’t control yourself at all. Which always leads to interesting places.
What do you make of the E Book revolution?
It’s complicated, troubling, exhilarating, potentially treacherous and potentially deeply invigorating. It requires all of us to keep asking ourselves all the time what matters to us about books, bookstores, the authors we love, the shared community we want to hold onto. And those are always good questions to ask.
Is there a particular incident or event which has changed your life and influenced your writing?
What a great question. I’m sure there have been more than one, but I’m superstitious about pondering it. I always have this fear, in talking about the connection between my personal life and my writing, that I will somehow learn something that “ruins” my writing. That takes away the mystery. It’s like dissecting something–once all the organs are on the floor, you can’t ever bring it back to life. (That’s a terrible analogy, but you get the idea).
If you could have dinner with any three literary characters, who would they be?
And I will say: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe (over shared gimlets), for his humor and battered heart, Jamalee (Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red), for her big gold dream of the world, and Bud White (James Ellroy’s LA Confidential), in case there’s trouble.
Thank you Megan for a perceptive and succinct interview.
Find Megan Abbott at…