Smoking With Amy Scharmann

by Josh Denslow Read the Story December 17, 2012

There are these two wonderful moments in “The Invitation.” The first is when the new girlfriend walks into the room and doesn’t creak the door the way the narrator used to. And then later, the ex-boyfriend pinches the new girlfriend’s nipple and she doesn’t react the way the narrator would. In both, the narrator thinks that he will push the new woman aside, understand that this is all wrong, not realizing that everything that makes the new girlfriend different from the narrator is why he likes her. It’s an interesting technique that builds a small amount of sympathy for the ex-boyfriend as well. Do you think the narrator holds herself at all accountable in the break-up?

It’s all about psychological projection. The narrator projects undesirable desires onto her ex to relieve anxiety over how small she’s become. She’s obsessed with her ex, so in turn he must be obsessed with her, which means he can’t possibly enjoy being with anyone else. She refuses to accept that she has no control over what he does, wants, and more importantly, needs. She is now in a state of helplessness and is past the point of holding anyone accountable. As I was writing “The Invitation,” I had sympathy for everyone involved.

The narrator feels small from the break-up, but also she has become physically small, watching a private scene unfold from her perch on the ceiling fan. Though this piece could work as magic realism, it stays grounded in reality throughout. Were you conscious of this line between fantasy and reality as you were writing?

Honestly, my “reality” is questionable, especially when I’m writing. Looking back, I want to say I was conscious of it, but I think this kind of thing is more intuitive than planned.

I love the image of the narrator tracing the animal shapes into the back of the ex-boyfriend’s head before their break-up. It’s a nice gesture, but one that surely would be undecipherable for the boyfriend. How much of a relationship do you feel is spent trying to find intent, and why is it sometimes worth it and sometimes not?

I’m glad you brought this up and I rather liked your conclusion about her thoughts/feelings/actions being indecipherable. This moment demonstrates their separateness, which the narrator does not want to accept, and which contrasts with the end image of the narrator essentially becoming part of him. She wants to have purpose, to be needed, to become part of something larger, etc. I don’t really have a specific answer to this question because it’s so different for everyone, but I feel that this story’s concept is familiar enough to be emotionally inferred without concrete explanation.

As a reader, I desperately wanted the narrator to get past this man who was obviously no longer thinking of her. Do you think the narrator will ever emerge from “the darkness that is him”?

It’s impossible to predict what people will do. However, in the narrator’s case, I think of this quote from Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Since “The Invitation” is such a perfect description of the aftermath of a break-up, I seem only to be asking relationship questions. So let’s wrap up with something totally different! What is keeping you busy these days?

I’m in my third and final year of the MFA program at the University of Florida and working on a short novel that I hope to finish soon. This piece makes an appearance in the book, actually. I play soccer and tennis. I’m addicted to Tetris (not kidding). I eat an entire bag of popcorn almost every day (still not kidding). I watch a lot of movies with my boyfriend, stringing him along with the promise that he can pick the next one. I grew up in Kansas and was always fascinated with tornadoes, so I developed a strange obsession with the weather channel, and this still keeps me very busy.

About the Author:

Amy Scharmann is from Manhattan, Kansas, and currently lives in Gainesville, where she is an MFA student in fiction at the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in the Flash Fridays series at Tin House and Bodega. She works as an editorial assistant for Subtropics, edited by David Leavitt.

About the Interviewer:

Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, CutBank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection, Not Everyone Is Special, is forthcoming from 7.13 Books.