“The Closer You Were, The Less You Knew” a short story by Annie Dawid, appeared in Issue 22 and can be read here.
We’d love to hear more about this story.
This story is based on a New York Jewish family’s history (not my own), and its imagined intersection with the events of Sept. 11. It starts on Sept. 10, when the matriarch of the family decides, after years of ambivalence, to get a face-lift. This innocuous/superficial act will lose all significance after the events of the following day, when one of her three daughters will die in the World Trade Tower. History cannot be masked, nor denied, however, and the reader will learn of the troubled family history lying beneath the surface of events of that day, and its links to other disturbing historical moments.
What was the most difficult part of this piece?
Writing about 9/11 risks sentimentality and cliché. I did know, indirectly, friends of friends who were killed that day. I hope I did all dignity, including the survivors.
Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (Canadian). A near-future North American dystopia/utopia after a massive flu wipes out most of the population. Beautiful, believable, funny, with a touch of Shakespeare. All my students have loved it.
If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?
Tea with Cynthia Ozick. She is one of our greatest living writers – brilliant and funny, knowledgeable about world history and the complexities of human nature. So often, she is eclipsed by the American Jewish Male Writer Pantheon. A recent article discussed the “literary lions” of Jewish-American literature. Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth are always lionized! She stands with and often above them in terms of breadth of work, erudition, and humor. Readers will know her oft anthologized short story, “The Shawl,” also made into a Broadway play. Her fiction and non-fiction compete in excellence. I recommend her essay collection Quarrel & Quandary, winner of National Book Critics Circle Prize, and her collection of short stories which forms a short story cycle (novel in stories), The Puttermesser Papers, most of which were published in The New Yorker.
What are you working on now? What’s next?
My unpublished novel of the last decade, Paradise Undone: Stories of Jonestown, examines the mass murder (not suicide) of the nearly 1000 Americans in the jungles of Guyana in 1978. The media of the time made those people – 80% of whom were African Americans, 1/3 elderly and another 1/3 children – into caricatures of crazy followers of the crazier Jim Jones. I want to give those lives dignity and have four protagonists in my book: one is Marceline Jones, the wife of Jim Jones, always eclipsed by her husband. Another is based on the Guyanese ambassador to the United States, who married one of Jones’s followers and in 1981 killed her, their child, and himself in our nation’s capital. The other two characters are fictional composites, one an African-American man who escaped Jonestown on the day of the massacre, and the other a white female follower who remained in the United States and remained faithful to Jim Jones for many years. The book ends on the fortieth anniversary of the massacre, in 2018.
Two pieces of the book have been published online: https://fictivedream.com/2017/05/28/long-before-jonestown-indianapolis-1956/ and, http://www.joylandmagazine.com/regions/west/jonestown-japantown.
Our thanks to Annie for taking the time to answer a few questions and share her work. Read Annie’s story, “The Closer You Were, The Less You Knew,” here: https://www.sequestrum.org/fiction-the-closer-you-were-the-less-you-knew.
Annie won second place in the 2018 London Independent Story Prize. In 2016, she won the International Rubery Award in fiction for her first book and the Music Prize from Knuthouse Press in Fiction. Other awards include the Dana Award in the Essay, the Orlando Flash Fiction Award, The New Rocky Mountain Voices Award (drama) and the Northern Colorado Award in Creative Non-Fiction.