Something bad happened in the world of this story that isn’t explicitly stated. Why did you decide to keep things somewhat mysterious?
I was thinking about the way this character would tell her story. The narrator is used to talking around the truth. As a kid, she was trying in so many ways to tell the world that something was very wrong, even though she felt like she couldn’t come right out and say it. Also, it’s often really hard to talk directly about trauma (even in retrospect) and I wanted the story to reflect that.
Hair seems to be an important element in this piece. Why did you decide to put it front and center in the story?
I never thought about hair being super important here, but it does take up a lot of space! I think the narrator’s poorly cropped hair is one of the ways she’s trying to tell the world to pay attention to her—to see her and the precarious situation she’s in. It’s also a small way she can exert some control over the situation and herself.
There’s this whole sub-genre of short stories about Americans who are unhappy and/or disenchanted and/or fed up with their European vacation. They’re sad and it makes them even sadder that they’re in the most beautiful settings. (Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” for example.) What is it about trips to Europe that makes Americans so cranky?
I’m sure there’s a wide variety of reasons people are cranky in Europe! I think Europe is so hard for Marigold because she’s isolated and disconnected and—whether she admits it in the story or not—pretty scared. I don’t think the beautiful setting only makes her sadder. I think Marigold is both saddened and comforted by the extreme beauty of this place. Even though she has every reason to fold entirely in on herself, she’s still noticing things; she’s still attending to the world and its loveliness, which is no small feat of resiliency.
Which is your favorite European country? Why?
I actually do really love Spain! I haven’t traveled in Europe very much, but I’ve been to Spain twice and was dazzled by it both times. The story’s setting is based loosely on the tiny mountain town of Leintz Gatzaga, which truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
How have your reading habits/choices changed during the pandemic?
My reading habits have remained relatively consistent—reading is one of the few aspects of my life that hasn’t been disrupted, and it’s been an enormous comfort. My tastes are probably skewing a little more towards novels than is usual for me. I love short story collections, but right now it’s hard to resist the comfort of staying with the same characters for hundreds of pages. Some of my favorite reads from pandemic-life have been Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward and How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer.
I also miss my local library a lot. The silver lining is that I’m working my way through books I own but have been putting off reading. I finally started Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, which I’ve been avoiding because it’s just so long. But now I’m tackling all 717 pages of it!