Following a lengthy profile of novelist Claire Messud and her husband, New Yorker critic James Wood—which begins with her threatening to run over a jaywalker—Publishers Weekly has put out an interview with Messud that puts the Amazon reviewers who pine for “likeable characters” in their place. She wants to write the nasty minds, shattering a gender taboo, meanwhile: “Because if it’s unseemly and possibly dangerous for a man to be angry, it’s totally unacceptable for a woman to be angry.”
Nora Eldridge, the betrayed middle-aged heroine of Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs, is just such an unacceptable angry woman, even interviewer Annasue McCleave Wilson seems taken aback by the timbre of this narrative voice, saying: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you?” Little does she anticipate the Messud rant she just unleashed—and it’s a doozy:
"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble."
Ouch. Remind me to add Messud to my list of delightful literary misanthropes alongside Thomas Bernhard and Sam Beckett. Though for the record, I would like to be friends with Don Gately from Infinite Jest. I just know he’d come through for me in a bad situation.