|photo: Alen MacWeeney
Belinda McKeon's second novel, Tender, the story of an obsessive relationship between a young woman and a gay man in 1990s Ireland, has just been published by Lee Boudreaux Books (February 16, 2016). Originally from rural Ireland, McKeon has lived in New York for 10 years and teaches at Rutgers University. She is also the author of the novel Solace and the editor of the anthology A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance.
On your nightstand now:
I've wanted to get my hands on Benjamin Wood's novel The Ecliptic all year, and passing through Dublin Airport last week, I finally nabbed a copy. It's a portrait of a group of artists living in a refuge off the coast of Istanbul, concentrating particularly on the character of Elspeth, a painter who has run away from the 1960s art scene in London. Wood's way of writing about art, and about the envies and anxieties that spring up between artists, is absorbing and addictive. Also by my bed is Issue 23 of A Public Space, one of my favorite literary journals; this issue focuses on forgotten or erased artists, with the editor's note revealing that the idea for the issue started at the $1 cart in Housing Works Bookstore, "where the undervalued and damaged books are put for sale." I love that glimpse, and the knowledge that such a rich collection of writings and images grew from it. Finally, on the nightstand is a galley of Helen Oyeyemi's new short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. It came with a key, the way galleys tend to come with accessories these days. I'm looking forward to the read, but the key has gone into the bin.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The first books I remember reading were a little set of four Peter Rabbit tales; it was, for some reason, published by the British department store Marks & Spencer in the early 1980s. Our neighbor Jo, who was slightly posh and au fait with British department stores, gave me a tale a week as a gift when I was maybe four years old. The books fascinated me; I was obsessed with the idea of there being all these little houses, with furniture and everything, in all the rabbit holes and tree trunks I saw around me. What also stuck with me were all the threats Peter faced from grown-ass men and rabbits, who wanted to punish and hurt him (they were total sadists!), but how he kept going anyway. He was my hero. Still is, come to think of it.
Your top five authors:
I return to Deborah Eisenberg's stories again and again, and teach them often. I love their uncompromising take on the things we humans get up to. Not dissimilarly, I love the stories of the 20th-century Irish writer Mary Lavin; they're often about the lives of girls and women, and they never hesitate to tell difficult truths. Edwidge Danticat, from Breath, Eyes, Memory to last year's YA title Untwine, her writing takes my breath away. I don't love everything Alan Hollinghurst has written, but for the The Line of Beauty alone, he makes my top five. And these days, I think it's not just okay but recommended to consider an author a favorite not just for their books, but for their brilliant social media presence. Roxane Gay is that writer for me.
Book you've faked reading:
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. I turned up for a tutorial on this novel in college, and nobody else did, so it was just me and the professor for an hour. I flattered myself that she believed I'd read it (I'd read some scholarly introduction or other), but I'm sure now that she had my number. I also mentioned the novel in my first novel, Solace, which is fraudster behavior of the highest order, isn't it? The weird thing is, I'm pretty sure I'd love it.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Kate Zambreno's Heroines, not that it lacks evangelists; it's a brave and fascinating book that captivated me when I first read it three years ago. It's not exactly a beach read, but I was so obsessed with it I couldn't leave it behind when we went on vacation, so I lay on the sands of Playa Sucia raging against the modernist writers (male) I'd always unthinkingly admired.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Chris Kraus's I Love Dick, and a very good decision that was, too.
Book you hid from your parents:
The ones I wrote....
Favorite line from a book:
"What happens in the heart simply happens," from Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. The line is a sort of ghostly subtitle for my novel Tender, in which it has a bit part.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Most recently, Lily King's Euphoria. I got it as a galley, wasn't aware of King's work, and started reading it almost absent-mindedly. Very soon, I realized I had found something very special, a compelling, stunningly written novel about three anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea. Nell, the character inspired by Margaret Mead, is an unforgettable presence. But I'd love to be stumbling upon her again for the first time.