"The day I got my period, my mother and father took me to pick my madman. The whole time, my dad kept his hands in his pockets and my mom acted like it was her show. I hadn’t let her in on how scared I was that I might be a freak born with uterus of steel and it would never happen. Apparently it didn’t cross her mind that I might be worried, watching all my friends go through it and what was up with my body, because all she said after I stopped digging and looked in my pants was, “All right. But hurry and get back."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lucy Corin is the author of the short story collection The Entire Predicament (Tin House Books) and the novel Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls (FC2). The collection Over A Hundred Apocalypses is forthcoming from McSweeney’s Books, and includes the story "Madmen". Stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, Tin House Magazine, New Stories From the South: The Year’s Best and a lot of other places. She’s a 2012 recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rome Prize, and an Associate professor at the University of California, Davis, where she teaches fiction writing and literature.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
CA: What is important about reading and writing short fiction, in contrast to other genres (memoir, academic writing, journalism)?
The nature of the basic convention of fiction, "this never literally happened" allows for what I think of as an incredibly private, even sacred space, where you, as a reader/person can experiment with ideas that would be too dangerous--intellectually, emotionally, politically-- to really encounter or take seriously in non-fiction or real-life situations. A stark example is something like Lolita -- you can engage in the complexities of Humbert's universe in a novel; in real life you'd have to simply condemn him as a preditor. Even with Lolita herself-- in the 'real world' she is reduced to being a victim and a victim only. In fiction she can be a multifaceted human being, glimpsed, if only in shards, through Humbert's view of her. That mental exersion of having to work hard to see something that in real life or non-fiction might seem simple, obvious, or "easy" to see is profound and necessary, and is what art is for that nothing else in life can access. You can play out dangerous ideas in fiction in a way that can help you understand what you really think about the world you live in and the choices you make about how to live within it.
CA: What does fiction reveal about social worlds?
Fiction is about the exploration of possibility-- it asks "what if? what if?" and that's a form of cultural critique. If you can't imagine what could be different from your experience, you can't really see the nature of your experience at all.
CA: Your story “Madmen” utilizes the wonder, flippancy, and naivite of the teenage participant as a first-person guide through an invented rite of passage. In the “Madmen” ritual, the mentally ill are literally harnessed as a way to expose young adults to the wonders of being. What attracted you to the theme of coming-of-age ritual and to the teenage voice? What is the relationship between the way that your story represents that voice and the ways that it is popularly represented?
"Wonders of being" is an interesting way to read the story that I haven't though about a lot, or at least not consciously. I thought a lot about what it means to "come of age" in this story, and I thought about what it would mean for a culture to actually foreground the mentally ill, in stark contrast to what I think contemporary American culture actually does, which is to try really hard to ignore/ not deal with the mentally ill. The "mad" enter the popular mindset in the form of mythical monsters or psycho-killers or sensational news stories on one end of the spectrum, and, on the other, supposedly "realistic" popular narratives that see the mentally ill as harmless romantic naifs, or handy-dandy street prophets, or geniuses on a pedestal. All of these ways of "seeing the insane" (to quote Gilman) seem to totally dehumanize actual people struggling with the very thing that is basically defined as that which "we" don't understand. So my premise was: what if part of coming of age was being forced to confront this-- what if confronting it was institutionalized in a way that suggested that what it means to become an adult is that you have to confront something that is essentially unknowable? The ultimate "other"? I never went through a religious coming of age ritual myself, and my sense of what my culture wanted from me when I became an adult was something like stop growing-- "be mature, drink responsibly, vote." Anyhow, I don't think I was able to find a way around this dehumanizing that seems to come with the effort to "understand" something-- at least not in this story-- but I tried to confront it by dramatizing it and messing with the us/them divide. The beauty, I find, of a teenager-narrator is that I can ask pretty heady questions to myself and not come off as pretentious on the page-- and I am forced to maintain a sense of humor about what I'm doing-- a sense of perspective that it really important to me as I ask myself the hardest questions I can think of. Teenagers dare to ask the hardest possible questions, and no one expects teenagers to have the answers, so as a writer it really frees me up to explore.
RELATED LINKS FROM LUCY CORIN
Corin has recently published work at Tin House, Pen America, The Massachusetts Review, Diagram, Hobart, Devil’s Lake, Swink, Eleven-Eleven, Wigleaf, Caliban, and in The Apocalypse Reader (ed. Justin Taylor).
An interview/conversation with poet Rae Gouirand for VIDA.
A piece from her collection, “A Woman with a Gardener” reprinted online @ the Lavender Review.
Q&A participation at Tin House for the Fantastic Women anthology.
Reading at the Make-Out Room to benefit VIDA, March 29, 7pm, San Francisco.
Story, “Let Me Tell You What I Got” written as part of the seven rings game on Huffington Post.
“Eyes of Dogs” on WebConjunctions.
Discussing her story collection and music for Large Hearted Boy.
In winter 2010 she collaborated with LEVY Dance on a piece called Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly.
A craft essay in The Writer’s Notebook.
A collaborative work, “Baby,” in Tarpaulin Sky.