Okay, I know you’ve been really nervous about this self-interview, but why don’t you just drink a cocktail, grow a pair, and I’ll ask you some questions.
(The author makes a vodka gimlet.)
So, who are you, Micah Perks?
That’s exactly why I didn’t want to do this. I knew you were going to be like that.
A wiseacre? Is that your answer? You’re a wiseacre? A wisenheimer?
Ha, ha. (slugs drink) My stepdaughter recently drew an abstract painting of our family as an assignment for school. She drew me as a circle, pink on the outside, blue on the inside. She said I was caring and gentle on the outside, protective and sarcastic inside. As I’m writing this, I realize that’s kind of like the main character in my new novel, What Becomes Us. Evie is gentle and caring on the outside, but inside she is this bundle of hunger, and in the novel the hunger part is growing bigger every day.
That reminds me of that student of yours, the comic artist Sina Grace, who caricatured you in his graphic noir novel as a goody two shoes cop with what he snidely described as Forever 21 hair (see author photo), but if anyone crossed her, she turned into the steely-eyed, scary bad cop.
Thanks, I remember, that was humiliating, but back to the novel—this conversation is making me realize that What Becomes Us is about women with true grit. Survivors. Which I’ve always been fascinated by. There’s Mary Rowlandson, the 17th century colonial captive that Evie is obsessed with, and maybe having ecstatic visions of her. And there’s Weetamoo, a Wampanog warrior queen, who was Mary Rowlandson’s mistress and the leader of the war against the colonists. She is one of my true heroes. Which makes me think of that poem by Sherman Alexie, Survivor Man. Can I quote it here?
If it’s short.
Here’s a fact: Some people want to live more
Than others do. Some can withstand any horror
While others will easily surrender
To thirst, hunger, and extremes of weather.
In Utah, one man carried another
Man on his back like a conjoined brother
And crossed twenty-five miles of desert
To safety. Can you imagine the hurt?
Do you think you could be that good and strong?
Yes, yes, you think, but you’re probably wrong.
That’s what my novel is about.
That sounds cheerful. I hear the novel is narrated by twins.
A ‘we’ voice, kind of like us?
Kind of. It’s a storytelling, utopian ‘we’ voice. The twins are not the only doubles in the book—there’s Evie and Mary Rowlandson, and Evie and her beloved, others—the novel is partly about that tension between we and I.
Who is this beloved you speak of?
Evie is trying not to fall in love with a married man. He’s a Chilean immigrant, an obsessive reader, and a soccer player with a devastating smile.
Interesting. Your actual beloved is a Chilean immigrant, a professor, a former soccer player with a devastating smile.
Really? That’s where you want to go with this?
Let’s lighten the mood. Bagels or toast?
Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie?
That’s really hard. Brad Pitt. No, Angelina Jolie.
Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte?
Ah, too hard. Bronte.
Michelle Tea or Maggie Nelson?
I love both their work. I can’t choose one.
Dirt or sand?
Me or you?
I see we’ve finished our cocktail. Are you going to make another?
Never, I only have one cocktail a day, and it has to be after five, you know that.
Oh, aren’t you the model of self-control. Except that was like three cocktails in one. It was at least two shots—
—Okay, we’re done here.
MICAH PERKS grew up in a log cabin on a commune in the Adirondack wilderness. What Becomes Us is her third book. Excerpts of What Becomes Us won an NEA and The New Guard Machigonne Fiction Award. She co-directs the creative writing program at University of California Santa Cruz. More info and work can be found on her website.