"In the beginning, I thought I'd write about somebody who was a veterinarian. So I spent a lot of time hanging with veterinarians and then I realized they have nothing to say. You know, all their patients are animals.
"I've never been so bored in my life. As a teenager I dreamed of being a veterinarian. I hung out with our own vet, and somebody who provided liaison to their veterinarian. But they were these men who had nothing to say. No understanding of who they were or why they were doing what they were doing. So I thought, 'I'm just going to have to give up on this idea.' Because I had in my mind the idea of somebody who was a lot like me in some ways. I mean that whole idea of being sort of a tortured agnostic and constantly looking for a pattern in the chaos of experience. That's not a veterinarian. It's much more likely that that person would be a shrink. It's a very talky book."
"You made Will's father a veterinarian, but you made him retired."
"He retired and turned into a photographer."
"Almost from Envy's first pages," I said, "there's water. The son drowns; the twin brother is a swimmer and so on. You write in the beginning that 'He wants to believe that love can't make mistakes, but what he knows is that it's like water, assuming the shape of the vessel, always imperfect, that holds it.' Did you notice something like that when you finish a book or all along are you aware of it?"
"No, I don't know anything when I get to the end. I think it seems proper for that, given that it's a book that messes around with the idea of the unconscious.
"In the end, I'm not sure I can make an argument for its being a realistic novel in some ways, yes, but in other ways, no. The swimmer twin brother is clearly a doppelganger, a dark expression of his psychoanalyst twin. He's real but he's not real.
"I feel that I have no ability to make any critical judgments about whether a book I've written is good or bad. There are things I like and there are many more things that I feel that I didn't do as well as I could have. But I just don't like looking at it. I'm not so much bored, I think, as stricken here and there by the thought that it should have been better.
"There's this sort of reassurance that comes from a reader who seems to actually understand what it is that you were writing. And then you get reviewed by people who seem to have read a different book. Perhaps naively ten years ago I wouldn't have necessarily thought that was true. But I do believe that the publication of The Kiss taught me many things about which I had the pleasure of not knowing before."
"Did it help you to go to Iowa, to 'writing school'?"
"It didn't really help my writing, I don't think. In some ways, I think that it gives you a set of critical tools by which to analyze your own writing. You know, like any other graduate school, connections come out of it that can be useful to you when you leave, but I think that you can in some way internalize the process of the workshop, in analyzing things like point of view and tone. You know voice and those sorts of things.
"And then to be able to think about them independently afterwards. Then you've learned something. But I think anybody who believes that a writing workshop can teach you to write is incorrect. It might help you to polish your craft but that's a separate thing.
"You know what Iowa did for me? That's where I met my husband. In that sense it had a profound impact on my life because there was no other intersection at which Colin and I might have met -- so that was a great gift."
"Brooklyn must be becoming something of a writer's colony."
"Yes. We landed here completely accidentally. We moved to New York directly from Iowa. Colin was driving the van, a rental, which was worth more than the stuff in it. I flew ahead. I had something like 48 hours to come up with an apartment, which was naïve in the extreme, but we had never lived in New York before. Well, I had a long time ago, but somebody else found the apartment.
"As soon I landed here, I realized, 'There's no way we're going to be able to live in an apartment together in Manhattan because we won't have enough room.' We're not the kind of people who can live in a small room together. We both have needs for space.
"So then the choice was between Astoria and Park Slope in Brooklyn. So I went to Astoria and saw some apartments. The location was fine but they were totally -- floor, walls, ceiling -- upholstered in linoleum. I mean, just more linoleum than one could believe could be installed in an apartment. I thought, 'I can't bear this.' So I thought, 'Okay, it's going to have to be Park Slope.' I found an apartment, Colin arrived, and we unpacked our stuff and there we were. We had no idea that we had landed in this publishing/writing ghetto. It dawned on us slowly that we'd arrived in this place where there are all these writers. It took us a couple of years to figure it out. We've lived here now for almost 20 years, and we've lived in the house that we're in now for 16 years. And I don't think we're ever going to move.
"I hate moving. I find it really to be one of the most wretched experiences."
"Do people in your neighborhood socialize with one another?"
"I suppose they do. We don't much. The whole idea of throwing a dinner party is a nice idea but -- our youngest is five. The two older ones are 15 and 13. So now the 15-year-old can conceivably help out and deal with the 5-year-old if I wanted to have a dinner party, but..."