Chile Mining Town
In “THE NEUTRAL GROUND,” the idea of place is examined from all sides of a mid-morning excursion—from the neutral ground, “the airstrip of grass… the place owned by no one,” to the streetcar interior, “a hollowed and spit-shined redwood… bare light bulbs hang[ing] like inverted ideas.” And from the momentum of the journey, “whizzing past street signs at close range,” to the quiet cool of a fountain, “run[ning]… fingers through the lily pads’ ethereal roots.” What draws you to the specific details of place?
When I started writing, it seemed like a place, and most often an odd place, would typically be the impetus for an essay—the small mining town in the very north of Chile where I stayed for over a week in the hospital with my stepdad, who’d been bucked from a horse and broke his ribs, or the small towns in Mississippi I spent a week driving through with my sister, mother, and two-year-old daughter during a hurricane evacuation. Or it’s a place I love, like New Orleans, or the lake near Tahoe we went to every summer for a week when I was a kid. The problem I run into, the difficult part, is that then I have to build a story to go with the place.
Who are among your literary influences?
Zadie Smith (more so for her nonfiction than for her fiction, but I think her most recent book, “NW,” is extraordinary), Eula Biss (anything and everything she writes, but “THE BALLOONISTS” holds a special place in my heart), Mark Twain and Nabokov for humor and irony, Joan Didion for her writing about place and seemingly endless well of vocabulary and sentence structure, Shirley Jackson for her twisted humor, Nadine Gordimer for the way she writes relationships and subtext… I could go on and on.