In March, the New York Times declared 2018 Meg Wolitzer's moment. Though the author has more than a dozen novels under her belt, her much-discussed (and timely) book The Female Persuasion, published earlier this year, is accompanied by a film adaptation of her 2003 book, The Wife, starring Glenn Close in a role that has already been generating awards buzz.
Wolitzer will visit Houston on Monday, September 24, as the first of this season's Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading series, alongside novelist Esi Edugyan. Ahead of her reading, we spoke to Wolitzer about Houston in the '80s, online distractions, and capturing the zeitgeist.
I did not know you had lived in Houston.
Yes, I taught at the University of Houston in the mid-'80s. I lived in Montrose. Is that restaurant Ouisie's still there? I remember that name.
Yes, Ouisie's Table. It's in River Oaks. Have you visited Houston since then?
No, I haven't. I'm excited to be coming back. It's been a long time. I was young there, and now I'm less young. It was the last time I drove, I think. I live in New York City so we don't have a car. I drove around Houston, I bravely drove around, but I was so unused to it. And I remember the heat. I remember getting into my car in Houston and not being able to touch the steering wheel or the seatbelt. I used to go to the Rothko Chapel all the time. I have very good memories of being there, with Donald Barthelme and Rosellen Brown.
You've been writing for a long time, with more than a dozen novels under your belt. Now, this book from 15 years ago, The Wife, has been made into a movie that is getting a lot of attention. Is it weird to revisit something you wrote so long ago?
It's very weird. This one took so long to get made. It was really hard to set up a movie called The Wife and to get a male actor to want to be in this movie, not only one that's called The Wife, but it's about a guy—the husband has behaved badly. It just took forever, but Jane Anderson, the screenwriter, was really tenacious and stayed with it.
It's icing on the cake for a writer. You spend all this time at night lying in bed thinking about your book, and then to hear these actors you admire speaking these names aloud as if those people are real is just mind-blowing. But I think that if you create characters that feel fleshed out, they might be desirable to turn into films because people want to see actors go deeply into character. At least I do. And in this film, they really, really do. And Glenn is brilliant in it.
How has your creative process changed over the years now that we have things like Twitter, Facebook, and social media?
You have to be a disciplined person if you're going to be a writer in the 21st century. The truth is when I'm actually deep in a book I am not really distracted away from it. If I want to be there then all I want to do is write, and it's easier for me to tear myself away from the stupid things that I sometimes spend my time doing, including online Scrabble. Nobody's gonna tell you. You're not a kid and nobody's gonna tell you, "Put that thing away, stop looking up Top 10 resorts, you're not going anywhere, why are you doing that?"
I read an interview where you said that you don't write biographical novels. You write about whatever is obsessing you at the moment. What are you obsessed with right now?
Generally, politics. It's hard for me to imagine that the culture and the politics of our moment will not sort of seep into what I write. The novel gives you some space to really stretch out and explore things and take side trips. One of the things a novel can do is become like a snapshot of a moment in time. What does it feel like to be at this moment when things are changing so fast.
When you were writing The Female Persuasion, which deals in part with issues of sexual assault and the various waves of feminism, you could have never know that the #MeToo movement was going to happen.
Yes, but these are issues that have been going on for a very long time. They're not new. They've just come to a sharper moment.
In the book, which tells the story of an intergenerational mentorship between two feminist women, there's also this idea that as women age, their value to society sort of decreases.
It's a youth-obsessed culture, and that's been true before the internet, but the internet lets bright, shiny young people show themselves, and there's this notion that older women feel invisible. It's sad that people might think that they don't have something that the world wants to see by virtue of their age.
I wanted to create, with Faith Frank, a character who has meant so much to so many people, but she seems connected to a previous time. There's this idea that you link a certain affectionate feeling for someone, a cultural figure, with the moment and where you were at that moment as well. I wanted to explore this idea of what we owe older people, what we give them, the differences between the generations. These women have grown up in different worlds.
There are real and legitimate criticisms that have been made of the women's movement, and social justice movements need to adapt, but I think that feminists want equality, and my job as a fiction writer is not to take sides. I just want to sort of look and say, "What is it like for these people? What is it like being them?"