Sunday, July 6, 2008

Jill Bialosky

Jill Bialosky's collections of poems are Subterranean (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001) and The End of Desire (1997). Bialosky is also the author of the novel House Under Snow (2002) and The Life Room (2007) and co-editor, with Helen Schulman, of the anthology Wanting A Child (1998).

Her third collection of poems, Intruder, is due out in October.

From a Q & A at her website:

Q: The Life Room opens with an epigraph from Anna Karenina, and the careful reader of your novel will find many allusions to Tolstoy's classic throughout. Could you discuss The Life Room's relationship to Anna Karenina the novel, and Eleanor's relationship to Anna Karenina the character?

A: When I was a young reader first embarking on a literary education the models in literature for women protagonists who had to struggle between passion and domestic responsibility were Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Edna Pontellier, and Lily Bart, among others. Passion was terminal; female protagonists swept up in love affairs ended up killing themselves. The message was that abundance of feeling led to tragedy. If women in novels were not killed off by their creator, they struggled like Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady to define themselves against erotic desire and the confines of marriage. I wanted to create a contemporary hero who does not have to die for her passions. We live in a time where adultery seems commonplace, certainly not a crime that would allow a woman to lose her social standing, her children. And yet, internally what are the risks? Are they any less? In The Life Room I set out to create a character that struggles with her sense of morality but ultimately does not have to relinquish her sense of self.

Tolstoy's masterpiece was in the back of my mind when I embarked on writing The Life Room. At the onset of the novel Eleanor Cahn has been invited to attend a conference and present a paper she's written on Anna Karenina. Before she goes to Paris her life is one way. Once in Paris, among other things, she reconnects with an old love from her past and her worldview is suddenly altered. She discovers that her assumptions about Anna Karenina have been false. Now she sees Anna's plight through a different light. I'm interested in the conceit of how perceptions of a work of art change depending on the reader or viewer's perspective. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy explored spiritual questions. Similarly, when Eleanor's domestic life as a wife and mother is jeopardized, she finds herself in a spiritual crisis. As far as other similarities between the two novels, I can't claim much. Tolstoy's novel is a tragic epic. The Life Room is an interior exploration of selfhood.
Read the entire Q & A.

Visit Jill Bialosky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue