Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Andromeda Romano-Lax

Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her new novel is The Detour.

A few weeks ago I asked Romano-Lax what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend toward older classics from the 1910s through 1960s, but lately I’ve been catching a more contemporary—and metaphysical—vibe. The two novels fighting for prime position on my nightstand are The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.

Both Wolitzer and Perrotta are great at skewering middle-class suburbia, while still granting us the humane pleasure of getting to know sympathetic, complex characters. I bought these books together as a birthday present to myself, thinking the authors shared some stylistic elements, without realizing that both novels just happen to share a lightly handled supernatural element as well.

In The Uncoupling, the members of an East coast town’s female population all decide, rather magically and inexplicably, to do without sex. In The Leftovers, masses of people suddenly disappear in a Rapture-like event, leaving behind puzzled and depressed family members.

There are some strange parallels here. Despite the bizarre events that propel each book’s plot, each novel is realistically rooted in everyday contemporary life, complete with troubled marriages and difficult teenagers, dinner parties and faculty meetings. This is Roth and Updike territory, but in our new millennium, that old Roth and Updike (and Cheever, and Yates) storytelling doesn’t seem to be enough.

Now we want our lives reflected back to us, but with some unexpected, over-the-top elements added—some myth or magic. Now we want our cultural commentators to be both Roth and J.K. Rowling, both Updike and Stephenie Meyer. That’s a tall order. What does this say about our current post-realistic, post-post-modern, late recessionary era zeitgeist? I’m not sure.

But this is not to suggest Wolitzer and Perrotta are pandering to a trend. I think they’re helping to create it, while following their literary sixth senses toward an unpredictable future where cul-de-sacs, infidelities, and the old 9-to-5 are not quite enough to capture the surreal disquiet we’re feeling inside.

As for me? I just finished writing a new novel, the subject of which is revenge. It is grim and troubling and for the most part, realistic—and it also happens to include a story-within-a-story subplot involving Annie Oakley and time travel. Go figure.
Visit Andromeda Romano-Lax's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spanish Bow.

The Page 69 Test: The Detour.

--Marshal Zeringue