I love how “Dream Barbie” walks a deft line between critique and empathy for its main character. On the surface, it’s peppered with political tension, but we can see the real conflict is gendered—the violence underneath masculinity and maleness. Given that, the central object of the doll becomes this complex vehicle that both emasculates the main character and reveals his vulnerabilities. At the same time it opens a chilling window on how he manipulates and objectifies women. Please tell us something about the inception of this story.
I suppose this character was inspired by some of my conservative male friends, particularly here in the South. I see their predisposition toward sexism and their tendencies to want women to serve some primarily “traditional” role. But what’s more interesting to me is their most basic need for that same woman and how they are willing to do almost anything to fill that space in their heart. And that part isn’t limited to conservative males.
I find the scene change to the mother’s house crucial for the story—getting the main character out of his apartment, out of isolation, and in contact with others. Was this scene more or less in your early drafts from the start? Did it evolve any?
Yes, this scene was always part of the story. I did edit out a couple of lines where his mother sort of said “I told you so” about his ex-wife. I decided that the conversation with his overly interested mother, a typical Southern mom, was enough to give readers a peek into her influence over him and thereby his insecurity about not having a wife. Also, I loved the paradox of the mother trying to oversee the son’s love life when she was divorced from her third husband.
I find the understated contact with his ex-wife equally important. What was the most challenging moment for you to capture or express when crafting this story?
I wanted to capture the vulnerability of the politically charged male through his attachment to this doll. It was important to me that I reveal how males sometimes use politics and sex and even love in ways that they probably don’t understand. I hope I was able to convey the gravity of strongly held beliefs and the ache of loneliness in a divorced man.
The simple, buoyant answering machine message was enough to contrast his sad, lonely existence, especially with an unknown dog barking in the background. This dog is part of a new family and it shows that she’s moved on and is happy. That underscores his misery.
What was in your childhood toy box (be it doll, action figure, stuffed animal, or anthropomorphized therapeutic device) that you most loved or hated?
I had a blue, stuffed teddy bear that I carried everywhere. The space between his ears and arms were sewed over and over with different colored thread, from where I hugged him to pieces and he had to be repaired. I think I ran through at least two versions of him. I still have the last one.