Sarah Shun-lien Bynum on Carving Out an Inner World… Online
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On giving readers a key for the book:
The original order of the stories didn’t include “The Erlking” coming first. But then as I was moving the pieces around, I thought about the entering into the fair that [“The Erlking”] opens with. I thought that might be a lovely way of suggesting that passage into a book that occurs when we first open it—this sense of not quite knowing what will be waiting for us, but that sense of anticipation and wanting to be entertained and to be taken elsewhere. That seemed like an apt way to open the book, just as the mother and daughter are approaching the entrance to this Elves’ Faire. I also thought that the story would make a good opening because it brings together both the contemporary and the fascination with celebrity and the anxieties of parenthood with a set of fairy tale motifs. I thought that might be a helpful template for the reader as they move through the book, that this is a book that will be moving between these two registers frequently. I thought it was a good key with which to read the map of the book.
On remembering the original meaning of “Likes”:
The title of the book is borrowed from one of the stories in the collection. In the context of the story itself, “Likes” refers back very specifically to social media likes. The 11-year-old daughter spends a lot of time on Instagram, and her sad dad is attempting to understand her and attempting to find some window into her by trying to parse her Instagram posts. But as the title of the collection overall, I hope that it might take on a broader, more expansive sense. Yes, likes as in the clicking on hearts, but also likes in the more timeless sense of the things that give us pleasure, the things that we’re drawn to, our obsessions, our favorites, our predilections.
On trying to find privacy during lockdown:
This past eight months has been such a peculiar experience of being physically in such close proximity as parents and children. On the one hand we’re eating all of our meals together, we’re going about our daily rituals together, we couldn’t be in greater intimacy. Yet at the same time, there also seems to be a heightened need for all of us to maintain privacy, too. And it does seem as if that digital space is one of the spaces where we are managing to carve out some privacy, some inner world.
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is the author of the novels Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and Madeleine Is Sleeping, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Her fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including the New Yorker, Ploughshares, Tin House, The Best American Short Stories, and the O. Henry Prize Stories. She lives in Los Angeles. Her recent story collection is called Likes.