Lauren Grove on violence and masculinity


Your novelWhat time is Mister Wolf?It opens when a boy floats on his back in a puddle. We gradually learned that it was part of an extended summer family gathering at the family home in New Hampshire. When did this character first come to you, Chip?

Image via Eli Sincus

My parents live on an old farm in New Hampshire, and all the apple trees, ponds and turkeys are in the fields, although it’s a more humble version of the estate in the story. A few years ago, my family renovated my father’s small barn and converted it into a home so we could stay in the summer to escape the Florida heat. We spend much of the day swimming in the pool, which is brown with tannins and rich in sumac, which makes it a little bewildering; I always fear I’ll hurt a Newton or two when I dive in. The pool is fed by springs, so it is always cool, but sometimes the July sun heats the pool to warm the shower water up the foot, and, if you float on your back long enough, looking at the sky, it is not impossible to feel as if you are slowly turning into a salamander. water. One day, I came out of the water thinking of one of the fortunate sons I knew, the party guy who never ended the way his family had expected, and the two elements, the pond and the black sheep, converged and became chip.

The novel is narrated in the third person, and we see the events mainly from Chip’s perspective. Part one focuses on the late afternoon and evening of July 4, then moves through Chip’s teenage and college years quickly, before returning to him in his mid-twenties, when life is expected of him to collapse. Did you plan the novel before you started writing? How do you know when to slow down and when to speed up?

I tried to write this short story for a few years before I surrendered to the scale the story needs, and leave the novel as it always has been. I tend to think of a story for a few years before it fully materializes into my mind, and only then does I write it. When I was trying to force the novel to be a short story, I had already thought about the difficult characters and events, all the elements were in the same place – said the same way – but everything was so compressed that there was no oxygen in the story. Time is the object of imagination and matter, and playing with time – folding, bending, and cutting it – is one of the greatest joys of writing. Anyway, I tend to rush when I want a temporary texture and a change of momentum.

Have you always had this title in mind?

I did not. In the two years that it took me writing this story, I have called it “Pearl Spang”. The character’s name comes from Vine Bakery, in my neighborhood, where I sometimes go to work; There is a painting of a winter landscape in one of the bathrooms signed by artist Pearl Spange. Every time I saw the name I had a little fun, and I would come back to work singing “Pearl Spang Pearl Spang Pearl Spang” under my breath. Even though I searched for Painter, I couldn’t find anything about it. Finally, with the last few drafts of the story, I remembered a kids game we used to play called “What Time, Mister Wolf?” Then finally, the title did what the title should do, pushing the story back and sending it wobbly about its axis.

We published your short storyThe windEarlier this year, which follows a mother and her children running away from an abusive husband. Do you see “What time, Mr. Wolf?” As an accompaniment?

I think of this novel as a companion piece to “The Wind,” but mainly because I have been thinking in my novels over the past few years about the violence that forms the basis of American culture, and this violence often manifests itself in our ideas of masculinity. Sometimes this type of writing feels less like thinking and more like pressing hard on a painful bruise, which I probably can’t stop pushing because I’m raising two boys, and seeing my kids become young in this culture is terrifying.

Your fourth novelMatrixSet in the twelfth century, it talks about a young French woman, Marie de France, the illegitimate offspring of the monarchy, who was sent by Eleanor from Aquitaine to England and became a priority for an abbey. You can’t get too far from Chip’s New Hampshire estate. How do you feel when you immerse yourself in Mary’s world?

To the reader, the stories definitely seem distant in their topic. Yet for me, the obsession with violence and American masculinity was the engine that drove the writing of “The Matrix,” which occurred during the terrible and vulgar Trump years, stirred in a loud, violent, stupid and exaggerated masculinity. I wanted to get as far as possible from Trump’s America – so, 12th century monastery, a flawed utopia for women – as I look seriously at what I see as a harbinger of so much religious intolerance, white male supremacy, imperialism and the climate catastrophe we face today. Much of the dying American empire can be expressed by remembering that America is the fruit of the unchecked Crusades of a thousand years ago.

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