Read the entire interview.
Oscar Feldman, the acclaimed painter, notorious womanizer, and “Great Man” of your latest novel, is a less talented painter than his sister Maxine. As you said a couple months ago, her work is deeper, more resistant to pigeonholing, but his is “flashy and bold” — and male artists are “just taken more seriously, even today.” So it’s Oscar’s life the biographers are stampeding to write, at least until they’re forced in the final pages to confront the truth about Maxine’s talents.
I hate to put you on the spot, but I wonder if the story was at all inspired by the reception accorded your first two novels. Despite the richness of your prose and the originality of your insights — not to mention your sense of humor — too many reviewers treated In the Drink and Jeremy Thrane as disposable fluff, something the Sex and the City crowd might pass the time with while awaiting the next Bridget Jones book. As you said then, “I think I have more in common with Lucky Jim than I do with Bridget, Eve or Jane, but because we’re all standing next to each other and we’re all girls, people think we’re together.” What was that like?
I felt a bit like an underdog/loser with a thwarted ego and an axe to grind in one of my own novels, and in that sense it was ironic, fitting, and really, the best thing that could have happened to me. Sure, it pissed me off at first, because few things are more infuriating than being underestimated, but it also lit a fire under my ass, so to speak, and taught me a few valuable Zennish lessons about writing: Let It Go (you can’t control what people make of your work); Keep Moving Forward Like a Shark (all you can do is write more books); and Ride the Ocean Tides and Stay Your Course (your internal compass, not a glowing or scathing review, is the one authority to be heeded and obeyed). If by some stroke of bizarre and undeserved fortune my first novel had been hailed as genius and won prizes and I’d floated off in a filmy golden bubble of critical blowjobs and huge advances, that would not have been in any way as good for me as a writer as being written off as disposable fluff. Honestly.That said, and to answer your question more directly, it does seem to me that male writers are taken more seriously just because they’re men, and conversely, female writers have to work much harder to be taken seriously just because we’re women; I don’t have any hard statistics to back this up, but almost every time I open the NYTBR, I become convinced anew. Anyway, it’s a little dispiriting, but there’s nothing I can do about it but keep writing.