Beginning with the tragic story of Rob Evans, an obese sloth who takes vacations in the tub and dreams of an underage love interest, readers temporarily find their egos comfortably elevated. This throne of narcissism is swiftly brushed out from beneath their buttocks, however. They realize how easily they could become like the poor creatures they laugh at when Archie appears – and sweeps them right back into reality. The perspective from which they see Archie’s desires is nearly opposite from where they see Rob’s – suddenly, they’re expected to sympathize:
“He pulls hard on his nicotine stick, feels the rain soaking through his open jacket, his black shirt. It washes away the wine from his freckled skin. He sticks out his tongue to catch raindrops, and feels a thirst long forgotten, a thirst for life.”
The lack of dialogue in Wild’s book serves us well in highlighting the emptiness of the characters’ lives through in-depth descriptions of every detail that surround their measly actions. Through this hyper-examination, we can be brought both to quiet sympathy and to raucous laughter.
The story of Tanja, a pregnant woman who suffers from “the overpowering need that would compel her to stop the car to consume handfuls of dirt grabbed greedily from the side of the road” is one that is both hilarious and unsettling. Readers of The Art of Contraception are sure to find themselves in uncontrollable fits of laughter as well as being emotionally touched.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Susie about her book, while she was in Wales, getting ready to go to India. Corresponding through e-mail, we talked about her opinions of love, losers, upcoming projects, and performance.
Some of the characters in The Art of Contraception, most notably Rob Evans, show that the desire to reproduce can come out in any of a variety of interesting activities – such as taking vacations in a bathtub. What do you believe are the sources for romantic desires? Are they just biological urges, or is there more to it?
I don’t think that there is one simple answer in this case and I don’t think I am an expert. Certainly I feel that some of the feelings and developments of love come from biology – breeding and survival. Yet love is a very complex emotion and part of what I write is an attempt to describe and understand the good and the not so great aspects of this invisible entity that so dominates many lives and cultures. There are so many kinds of love, and few are the sweetened Disney kind of film fairy tales. Some people do get those firework moments, but others couple together because of loneliness, laziness or boredom.
In the case of Rob Evans, really he is just a man trying to understand the object of his affection in much the same way most young infatuations go. There are darker undertones of course, but in essence his is a tale of daydreams and an unrequited crush that goes very wrong for him.
Next to your satirical comedy, you also reveal some oddly depressing characters – such as Archie. Why should we care about the losers? What function do they play in our society?
I think, to an extent, we are all losers if only occasionally to ourselves, our parents or indeed our lovers. We all have fallibilities, insecurities and disappointments, even those at the top of their game. While I was studying for my various undergrad and postgrad courses I worked in a number of rough-around-the-edges bars and met a lot of people down on their luck. Some just had a tough week or month or year, others never found their way back to where they originally wanted to be. Even so, it didn’t always turn out terribly for them. For some, missing out on the things they had their heart set on meant they were free for unexpected opportunities that came their way soon after. Others tried to sit the bad times out and they never left. I am a great believer in going after what you want, and that persistence can change luck, but I’ve also learnt the hard way what an exhausting disheartening struggle it can be to get around those bends.
Then again we may only like to read about ‘loser’ characters because of good ole Schadenfreude or the joyous reassurance that someone, even someone fictional, is worse off than you… and, as life’s great philosopher Dolly Parton says, ‘if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.’
Are there any particular personal experiences that you have had with contraception that inspired you to write this book?
(If I had wanted to share them I’d have written non-fiction ; ) Having read the book you’ll also know that these stories hinge on all kinds of relationships from the sexual to the familial.)
After university I actually worked for a number of years as a journalist for a youth advice charity website that had very frank peer-to-peer discussion boards on all aspects of teenage and student life including sex, so I used to have interesting, sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing and often explicit discussions with my colleagues about the plights of our clients on the early shift, moderating their posts and chipping in advice and helpline numbers. My work is inspired as much by such anecdotes, news stories and snippets from the world around me as it is from my own personal experiences and imagination.
You nearly always mention your enjoyment of performing at dives and dance halls – what is it about these environments that contribute to the performing experience? Is it the people?
That’s just the kind of gal I am. I’d rather have a decent pint of real ale than champagne. Also performance poetry and live literature over here isn’t the most glamorous of games. You perform in cramped rooms upstairs from or at the back of Old Man pubs where sound systems don’t work and there is always some sort of weird and loud background noise and the stage is also probably the walkway to the toilets. Or you are in a marquee during a British “summer” in Wellies and a waterproof. Once in a while I get to read in a bookshop where they bring me tea and cake or a Private Members Club with good wine as part of the payment, but these are rare treats. Sometime it is the people, my favourites are the ones who buy books, I also especially like that couple arguing in the corner and her, there, vomiting on my new boots.
You casually mentioned that you’re going to India – I’m extremely jealous. What is it that draws you there, and have you got any exciting adventures planned?
As well as writing books and poems, I also work as a journalist and arts critic. As such, thanks to Wales Arts International, I am heading over to India to write about Hay Festival Kerala, but prior to that I have tacked on an extra week’s writing retreat on the South Indian coast, and I can’t wait to get out there! Usually I like adventurous exploration when I travel, but for the first week of this trip I am aiming to get some much needed R&R and selfish, sun-soaked writing, sleeping and reading time.
What’s your editorial vision for your new literary magazine The Raconteur? What are you looking for in submissions?
I joined as Associate Editor a few months ago and the first issue in the new paperback format, America, is out any day now with launch parties in Swansea and Cardiff when I get home from India. Dylan, Gary and I look for new writing with passion, skill and wit from both established and emerging writers. Our next issue will be themed Beauty and will launch in May 2012. We are accepting submissions now, but do visit our guidelines before briefly pitching considered ideas.
What have you been reading?
I’ve been stockpiling books of late. I have a stack of novels that I’m working my way through – I just finished Remainder by Tom McCarthy – but I’ve mainly been reading a lot of short and flash fiction including Lorrie Moore’s Collected Stories, Andrew Kaufman’s The Tiny Wife, and Nik Perring’s Not So Perfect. I have an ever-increasing pile of review books glaring at me, neglected, but in India I shall also be taking my Kindle (Murakami’s IQ84 is on there, and so is Ali Smith’s There But For The which I pre-ordered ages ago but then got side-tracked from). I’ve also got a soft spot for Nasty Little Press poetry pamphlets.
What inspires you?
Life, dreams, creative and intelligent others, watery locations, adventures, hangovers and pillow talk.
To submit to The Raconteur, visit: www.theraconteur.info