“Gray Area is What Novels Can Do That Twitter Cannot.” Rebecca Makkai on Incorporating #MeToo in Her New Novel
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Rebecca Makkai about her new novel, I Have Some Questions for You.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: One element of the book is that the main character’s husband is an artist and he’s having this MeToo moment where some things are living out on Twitter from his past. When he was an artist in his 30s, he dated a very young woman, but it doesn’t appear to your main character, Bodhie, that anything was wrong, except for that this woman is calling him out, because she feels like she was harmed, but it really seems like there wasn’t any harm there. And so, there’s a lot of questions there about veracity and who you believe and what one person’s experience is of controlling a narrative which may or may not be true.
Rebecca Makkai: The last thing I want to do is go in with a hypothesis, with a thesis statement, like, this is the way things are and we’ve figured it out. I want to contradict myself, I want to get paradox in there, I want to get gray area, because gray area is what novels can do that Twitter, for instance, cannot do very well. Social media is not very good at nuance. That’s what art is for.
You know, there have been cases, for instance, coming up with someone getting called out, getting canceled in the literary world and in the arts, and in other areas, where people I know, sometimes including me, are going, this is jumping the shark, this person does not deserve public censure just for not being good at relationships, or whatever this is. But none of us is going to say that publicly, you’re not going to be the person on Twitter to say, I don’t think it’s that bad, because then you are right in the line of fire. There’s just not a lot of room for disagreement or nuanced discourse. But this is something that books can do.
Bodie, the character definitely feels like this woman is being ridiculous and her husband is immature but did nothing wrong. The book does not come down on one side or the other. This is one point in a constellation that includes things like this high school harasser and this predatory teacher in the story. It’s part of the mess, part of the big gray area mess that I’m trying to make in general and people will come up with their own ideas about it.
Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Great Believers, The Hundred-Year House, and The Borrower, as well as the short story collection Music for Wartime. The Great Believers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and received the ALA Carnegie Medal and the LA Times Book Prize, among other honors. Makkai is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University, and she is Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago.