Author Sara Levine read a few chapters from her novel Treasure Island!!! (a Rumpus Book Club selection) at WORD bookstore in Brooklyn and said wonderfully interesting things during the Q & A with the audience:
On male plots v. female plots:
– Generally, men’s books are about abandoning consciousness and setting off for adventures and solving physical problems; Levine wanted to write a book with a female protagonist who wants a physical adventure but can’t have one. Levine “refused to leave the feminine behind,” which I took to mean that she didn’t want to drop a female character into a traditional male plot because that would mean abandoning the real constraints women face–the obligations/tethers to life that preclude “going out into the world!”
– This reminded me of Sylvia Path writing in her journal at eighteen about her “consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors, and soldiers, barroom regulars–to be part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording . . . to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night”; but, she goes on to say (in a tone I can only read as “torpedo to the gut”), she can do none of this, because, “I am a girl, a female, always in danger of assault.” The adventures of men and women are different.
On Treasure Island!!!!’s narrator:
– Like Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive, the protagonist/narrator does not have a name. Levine thought a name like “Betsy” would imbue the narrator with too many prefab characteristics. As a stylistic device, the lack of a name refuses the reader a handle on her.
– There’s a moral center to the book the narrator does not inhabit (she is sometimes a monster).
– On the narrator being “unlikable,” Levine said, “No one asks this of male narrators, to be likable.” Also, she has many likable qualities, for example: wit and mental quickness, and we as readers are sympathetic to her yearning to be better.
– She’s not a “chick lit” girl with whom you’d want to go shop shopping or discuss waxing habits.
– “Certain people have outed her as a Jew.”
On the narrator’s Core Values “Boldness, Resolution, Independence, Horn Blowing”:
– If Levine had to pick her own four Core Values, she’d go with: “compassion, empathy, patience, kindness.” She never suggests these straight in the book; she prefers to come at it slant. Points to Sara Levine for referencing Emily Dickinson in conversation.
On her favorite book:
– Sara (we’re now on a first-name basis after the Dickinson triumph) calls herself a serial monogamist–she loves one book after another after another. (Don’t we all.)
On her writing style:
– Slow. She believes in putting work in a drawer. (I have since created a folder on my desktop entitled “Writing Drawer.” I suggest you do the same–then we can be twinsies!)
– She discourages students from publishing too fast–most want to publish yesterday. (Don’t we all.)
– She likes short forms because she doesn’t like to take up a lot of space.
On her editing style:
– Compares her writing to a wall with fissures.
– Her critical eye becomes less critical with time. (Another benefit of putting work in the drawer.)
On Robert Louis Stevenson:
– Robert Louis Stevenson was 31 went he wrote Treasure Island; his parents still financially supported him. He had failed many times to write a book and worried he’d never make it as a writer. He was often wrong about things.
Note to potential readers: If you enjoy books where every sentence is a perfect sentence, I suggest you read Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine, who thinks her book would be more Jewish if she threw a question mark in the title.