Lynne Tillman: lady, writer, ladywriter
Emma Terhaar | Thursday, February 12, 2015
Lynne Tillman is a lady writer I heard read at the Eck Visitors Center on Feb. 11, a very special experience. English professor Steve Tomasula said in Tillman’s novel “Haunted Houses,” Tillman is like an ethnographer who happens to be studying 20th century American girls. Tillman read from “Haunted Houses” despite the strangeness of returning to a work she finished 20 years ago — which she said was like “being dropped into a river.” Tillman then read from her later novels “Motion Sickness” and “American Genius.”
Tillman said it took seven years to write “Haunted Houses,” and yet when she went to read it, she had to remind herself that she wrote it. “Once I finish I can never go back,” explained Tillman. She said she could never write the same book again. “I think we do what we can do when we’re drawn to it.”
I find this terrifying, the idea that you have a story inside you for a certain amount of time, and you’ll never again be able to write it like you would right now. That’s some serious carpe diem lifestyle right there. But I suppose by this logic we can also be too close to a story to write it properly. Some stories are impossible to tell later, and some stories need to gestate.
Most of Tillman’s novels are lauded as defying conventions. As a millennial, it’s hard to know what the conventions are or what they were in the ’80s and ’90s when she was defying them. I think she must be different in the way she makes a person — she could tell you what every character in a scene is thinking and what they had for breakfast, even if it’s a first-person story and none of that information ever enters. For “Haunted Houses,” Tillman wrote three case histories of each main character in the text. The story is just a story; it moves and develops like any plot, but underneath the plot there’s some psychoanalyzing of characters and an argument for a determinist worldview.
One of the best parts of the reading was when Tillman responded to a question from the audience about the association between feminine sexuality and fear in her novels. Tillman answered bluntly that sex is scary. We have birth control now and unwanted pregnancy is less prevalent, and yet there are still consequences that come from having sex. My mother has said the same thing to me a dozen times, so hearing Lynne Tillman, ladywriter and child of the ’60s say it was like a grand “I told you so.”
But don’t listen to me; check out Lynne Tillman’s stuff for yourself. She’s written five novels, three collections of short stories, one collection of essays and two nonfiction books. Keep in mind the next creative writing reading is Feb. 18, Ross Gay at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.