Bestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).
Sylvia Plath once said, “Kiss me and you will see how important I am.” When I read that sentence, I immediately think of your new book, Abroad. Aside from the obvious connection to the Amanda Knox trial, the book feels like it’s about sexual power and female friendships. Yes? No?
I am a huge Plath fan. I actually read her college journals while I was writing Abroad. She was so complex and passionate and brilliant and all over the place; I feel the same way about my young characters. Twenty-year-olds are usually not in control of their emotions and motives the way adults are. Taz is attracted to everyone and everything, and she’s intensely scared of that. And she’s at a time in her life when female friendships are particularly intense.
The book seems to say that we want to be close to our female friends, but there’s a way in which we also want to possess them. And there are ways in which we hate them, or want to reduce them. Taz, our protagonist, asks at one point, “What it is that really feeds a friendship between women?”
That line, “What is it, really, that feeds a friendship between women?” is about the hate that inevitably goes with the love of a friend. There’s this quote from Medea that I adore: “The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable, is that which rages in the place of dearest love.” Friendship is not all hearts and roses. If it’s real, it has an edge to it. And just like romantic love, it can be dangerous.
The B-4 (group of four girls) put a lot of stock in sexiness and sexuality. Do you think those are the most potent powers available to them at that time?
To me the power of the B-4 characters comes from their unreasonable self-confidence. It’s almost comic. Yet Claire is the most powerful character of all, because she knows herself the best. That’s what shakes the other girls up and makes them wary of her. The sex is incidental.
Really, incidental? But they use their sexual power to pull people in. And, many times, the sexual power they have at the beginning of the encounter is usurped and harnessed so that the person they have sex with then has the power (and the woman herself is diminished). Even just noting sexual power, such as when the professor tells Taz to leave so that she won’t seduce the old man, seems to transfer the power (from Taz to the professor). Do you think this power transfer is about their youth? The partners they are choosing?
Well. Sex is a transfer of power if you let it turn into that. And certainly when one is young, it’s hard for it not to be that. It’s such a wonderful moment in a life when one realizes, Wait! I can just have sex, and enjoy it, and I don’t have to give up anything! Taz doesn’t know that yet, but Claire does. That’s why she holds all the cards. Jenny thinks she knows that, but she doesn’t really believe it. She lets the men have all the power, which is why her character is so tragic.
There is much made about the power of four in this book. The girls need a fourth for parties, socializing and other things (I don’t want to give anything away). Is an individual woman’s sexuality and power increased by her association with other sexy women? Unlike the group of four, Claire is a loner and her sexiness, in many ways, feels more male than female.
I always find it interesting to watch young girls traveling abroad. No matter what the nationality, they are usually in groups of three or four. When living in Perugia, I would watch them stroll down the corso, holding hands, wearing similar clothing. This is for safety, of course, but I also think there is a sisterhood women enjoy. It’s interesting that you say Claire is more male than female. I don’t see that. She is confident and a little strange and on her own a lot, but it doesn’t make her less feminine to me. She’s just in a different place than the other girls in the book. She’s an old soul. She knows more.
The violence in this book is intricately tied to the sex. At one point Luka says, “I’d like to be dragged and tied. Sex is so boring in uni.”
Luka is voicing her sexual curiosity, which all of the girls share. This curiosity is enhanced by their environment and being away from home. I don’t think sex is always violent. Though it can feel that way when you’re having sex with someone you don’t love. When Taz first has sex with Riccardo when they sneak into the church, she feels this violence. She admits she doesn’t love him, and she knows he doesn’t love her. So the act becomes purely sensual and athletic. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was important to me that Taz have that awakening. This was a woman that died, not a girl. She died with important knowledge of herself. Her journey isn’t pretty, but it so rarely is for young women. It was real.