Hilary Leichter: “I Don’t Feel Like I’m in a Realist World”
This Week from the Thresholds Podcast with Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
On this episode, Hilary Leichter talks to Jordan about her surreal, satirical novel Temporary, and about starting out as a musical theater actor and realizing, at a cattle call, that her future was going to be a different one than she planned.
From the episode:
Jordan: I really loved, when I read Temporary, what a strange book it is, how weird the reality is, how surreal it is. It made me feel such delight to read it precisely because it was this intense, weird world. And something I’ve been wanting to ask you is why that—I don’t know if you call it an esthetic or maybe like a set of ethics—but why that appeals to you so much. Why is that where you feel at home when you’re working?
Hilary: That’s a really good question. It feels emotionally honest to me. I think there are a lot of really good books about work that approach it from a more realist standpoint, but I don’t feel like I’m in a realist world. I feel so often discombobulated wonder and shock and genuine surprise about the things that happen every day in my life that I don’t know if I could have written it in a way that wasn’t absurd, because absurdity felt like the most natural and most truthful state of being to come from in telling this story. If I could have written it just beat by beat, a day in the life in New York, I probably would have. But for whatever reason, my brain lives somewhere kind of odd. And I don’t know that I know why. Which is not to say that I don’t love a big, meaty, epic family novel without a hint of magic realism; I love books like that. When I think about the world, it just tends to be a little bit upside down. And I can’t help it.
Hilary Leichter is the author of the novel Temporary, which was shortlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her writing has appeared in n+1, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, and New York Magazine’s The Cut. She teaches fiction at Columbia University and has been awarded fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the New York Foundation for the Arts.