Emma Cline: No One Captures Memory Like Mary Gaitskill
The Author of The Guest Takes the Lit Hub Questionnaire
The story follows 22-year-old sugar baby Alex, who is in an arrangement with a fifty-something sugar daddy after previous attachments have imploded. Alex is determined to perform the role of the ultimate playmate, but is undercut by the shifty terrain of being young and female and economically unstable—she feels she is losing her charm. In The Washington Post, Ron Charles saw allusions in The Guest to ur-grifter story The Great Gatsby, describing it as a “smoldering thriller in the Hamptons.” Rob Lyon described it in The Guardian as a “gorgeously smart affair whose deceptive lightness conceals strange depths and an arresting originality.”
Cline stepped briefly off the publicity train to take the Lit Hub Questionnaire, revealing that the best way to organize your bookshelves is to be honest with yourself: the avalanche isn’t stopping, so stop trying to organize and make brave peace with the cairns of books that plot a course through your messy home.
Which book(s) do you reread?
I reread Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica–structurally, I love how Gaitskill manages moving between the past and present. It feels like she has captured how memory actually works. Her writing is some of my favorite writing.
Same with certain Deborah Eisenberg stories–there’s this surreal chaos in her stories, the narration starting at a cafe and ending in a jungle, and I love seeing how she pulls the reader along. I’d follow her voice anywhere. David Gilbert’s short stories are also a real delight to reread–layered and funny, perfectly vivid.
How do you decide what to read next?
Friends recommend books, or I poke around the library or a bookstore. Often, too, I’m interested in some topic or era or event or author, so I’ll read every groupie memoir or more Alfred Hayes or whatever it is.
How do you organize your bookshelves?
I don’t organize them at all—and mostly books end up in piles on the floor, in a loose order of what I want to read next.
What’s a book you recommend to other writers?
John Cheever’s journals always move me—the span of a life, the form of his noticing. It’s not such a cheerful picture of the writing life, but it feels so close to the bone.
What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you are meant to be writing?
Taking baths is an effective way to procrastinate, though I tell myself it’s a form of writing—to waste some time and let your mind wander.
Emma Cline is the author most recently of The Guest, available now from Random House.