Yes. You, too, can understand women for only $15.
Does Joe’s wife agree about him understanding women?
No, but that’s just Joe’s wife.
Why do people get married in the first place?
I don’t know. Why do we fall in love? Why do we bomb each other, or stab people we love/don’t love/could love in the heart? My son, who is considered nonverbal by the experts and tabulators of our world, still taught himself how to say: Why do we do?
Are you attempting to answer these questions in Love Maps?
Of course not. But I had fun writing about them.
Your novel mucks around in the interior and exterior battles of Sarah Marker, a New York artist and Connecticut single mother from the time that she’s 31 to 47 years old. You started writing Love Maps when you were 31, and it’s coming out now, when you’re 47. Is it autobiographical?
No, but we have grown up together, and I do feel close to Sarah—her pull to her art, her at times ossifying pride, her love of the open road. Way back when, when I started writing her story, I seemed to be surrounded by women on the page—and in real life—who wanted to get married, or the equivalent thereof, have kids, balance family and job, and so on. I sympathized with them—I got it from an economic/practical/traditional point of view, but I just didn’t feel it inside. Didn’t anyone else pine to be a hobo? I remember a friend complaining about a boyfriend who “wanted more space” and my lungs crimping as if I were the one being suffocated.
But Sarah Marker gets married. And you did, too.
Yes. I am married, with three children, a dog, and a cat. There is even a minivan, a much-dented Honda Odyssey with a carpet half eaten by battery acid. I had no idea when I started Love Maps that such a fate would befall me.
Did your husband kill someone and run away?
No, thank goodness. He once beheaded a mouse, but that’s about the extent of it.
This book took fifteen years to write. Does that seem like a long time to you?
If you want to look at it from a human point of view, sure. I wasn’t writing it continuously. I’d write a draft. It wouldn’t quite work. I’d put it away. I’d take it out a couple of years later, rewrite. It still wouldn’t be quite right. I’d put it away. The characters would come back to bug me. When I finally gave it to Akashic, my editor suggested moving a letter that Philip wrote to Sarah to the beginning of the book. Bam. The whole thing fell into place.
So it took fifteen years to write because you couldn’t figure out where to place a letter?
Well, yeah. But I think that those years helped make it a better book. If it came out when I was 33, if I had somehow made it work the first time around, it would have mainly been a riposte against that mushy view of love where love is a stand-in for good. Love is an attractive force, yes, but the idea of it always being positive is preposterous. People kill themselves for love. They kill each other. They torture themselves and each other. They get zapped by an asymmetrical blast, they are strangled by incurable longing… I was intrigued by the troublesome power of love and wanted to write about that. These days, I am still interested in trouble, but I also find myself weeping at weddings and marveling, through my son, at the transformative possibilities of love. What I’ve tried to do with Sarah is explore these countervailing forces, these different sorts of love, and different ideas of love, that pull us in a myriad of directions.
Is that why it’s called Love Maps?
One reason. Love Maps is also the name of a series of paintings that bring Sarah some acclaim. She plots the distribution of people’s romantic history on a map based on the New York City subway map. Red dots for unions, green for breakups, one map per respondent. It was a project I’d wanted to do myself, back when I painted. That’s a nice thing about fiction—you can nudge your characters to do those things that you always meant to do. If they take you up on it, it’s almost as if you did it. You can cross it off your list.
Sarah and Philip visit the ruins of Pristina, the mercury mining town you wrote about in The Mercury Fountain, but Love Maps doesn’t come off as a sequel.
True. That’s because the middle’s missing. In my late twenties, I was living up in Harlem, missing the stark beauty of the West Texas desert. I imagined a husband and a wife driving down to the desert, the husband set on climbing down into an abandoned mine shaft, the wife not knowing where they were going, having no idea what her husband was thinking, the two of them bound in a rigid silence. Trying to figure out where they were going led me to mercury mining, utopian communities, abolitionists, puritans, World War II, circus trains, grim ferrymen, powerful half-sisters, Seminoles, robber barons, and runaway rabbis: way too much for one book. So I split it into three. At the beginning is The Mercury Fountain. At the end is Love Maps. The middle—the story of Max and Grace, Sarah’s parents, escaping the Nazis in a circus train—has yet to be written.
So the middle is next?
The next fiction, yes. I also write a blog about disability, and I’m working on a memoir about life with my son. But the next novel will be about Vienna on the cusp of World War II, snake dancing, a sour cook, a flea-bitten train, Victoria and Mamoush, Max and Grace, and a terrible bargain. I’ve been thinking about this story for about twenty years. It’s a little intimidating, the thought of actually writing it. But I’m looking forward to it anyway.
ELIZA FACTOR is a writer and the founder of Extreme Kids & Crew. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and three children. Her debut novel, The Mercury Fountain, was published in 2012. Love Maps is her latest novel.
Photo credit: Kate Milford