How Growing Up in the “Dysfunctional, Small Southern Town” of Washington D.C. Informed A.M. Homes’s New Novel
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
A.M. Homes is the guest. Her new book, The Unfolding, is out now from Viking.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: Your book is so excellent at capturing bourgeois manners, like the Washington aristocracy. I was wondering, did you go undercover? Do you have an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter? It really feels like you know these people. Was there a research process?
A.M. Homes: There was a huge research process. Part of it is talking about the least likely characters to tell a story. Often when we hear about the conservatives in America, we hear it from the point of view of the downtrodden. So we have Hillbilly Elegy or books that are illustrations of what it is to be poor in this country.
The very conservative wealthy, and the way in which they exert their power and wealth, was really, really interesting and important to me to try to inhabit and illustrate. So, yes, tons of research. I’m always doing research, and I grew up in Washington, D.C., in a household that was probably sort of socialist and where my parents were always marching on Washington.
I also distinctly remember my parents sent me to a Christian Southern camp in North Carolina, as a Jewish kid from Washington, D.C., and I happened to be at this Christian camp when Nixon resigned. There was this huge moment of waking for me, as I’m seeing my counselor sobbing and saying “I bet mom is having a heart attack” and so on.
I remember thinking, “I bet there’s a party in Georgetown,” and realizing that this city I’d grown up in, which always seemed to me like a dysfunctional, small southern town, was actually in charge of everything in this country. Realizing how big this country is and how that dysfunctional, small southern town of Washington, D.C., didn’t seem to understand the scale and scope of America in the most classic sense. As much as the book doesn’t all take place in Washington, it is absolutely my Washington book. About the absurdity and strangeness of Washington.
A.M. Homes is the author of thirteen books, among them the best-selling memoir The Mistress’ Daughter; the novels This Book Will Save Your Life, The End of Alice, and Jack; and the short story collections Days of Awe, The Safety of Objects and Things You Should Know. She also writes for film and television and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.