Interview With Sara Freeman
The writer discusses moving to New York, the trope of the hysterical woman and how sex works.
Sara Freeman, pictured. Photograph by Richmond Lam.
Sara Freeman has a tendency to deconstruct people's motives—something she also claims to do "all the time when I'm reading. I want to diagnose the characters. You psychologize and you try to make easy sense of someone's internality. It's not that simple. Our consciousness is really fluid and layered. I hope that I can write things that allow that to come through, where the actual form is mirrored in that slipperiness."
Born in Montreal, Freeman lived in Ottawa for a few years before moving to Berlin, and then London, where she spent most of her adolescence. She returned to Montreal to study history and Hispanic studies at McGill. She moved to New York three years ago and is presently completing an MFA in fiction and literary translation at Columbia University.
Her short story "Husband" appears in Maisonneuve's Fall 2012 issue, and her story "In This Field, This Place" was one of two second-place stories in Maisonneuve's 2012 Genre Fiction Contest.
Erica Ruth Kelly: Do you find that your writing has changed since you moved to New York?
Sara Freeman: Yeah. I feel like I'm always discovering something new, every piece that I write. I'm really beginning to figure out the things that interest me over and over and over again. You know, like your fixations and obsessions. Maybe in New York, my fixations and obsessions have become more intensified because I spend more time alone; I have less of a community to dissolve into. My writing has become a bit more enclosed.
ERK: I noticed that there are various instances in your stories where information is omitted, where the reader is thrust into a universe without any explanation. For example, in "Husband," we learn that the mayor is closing the hospitals and opening up the prisons, but we never learn why. Did you purposefully exclude some of this information?
SF: The kinds of stories that are really poignant to me are ones where there's a sense of consequence, but without necessarily the cause. There's a sense of a world that has maybe collapsed or collided or been dissolved in some way where the actual reason for the dissolution is not entirely clear, but the feeling is very strong. And then, I think, as a reader of those kinds of stories, I recognize the feeling of this disintegration, but I don't feel like I need to know why the disintegration happened. In "Husband," I was interested in the fact that it isn't necessarily entirely clear what realistically or naturalistically is happening as the political background. It might be, in part, a figment of her imagination. It might be, in part, something that is not of this world and it doesn't entirely matter to me, as the person creating the world, and also, I hope, to the person reading it.
ERK: The first time I read "Husband," I thought the wife had OCD, given how concerned she was with the placement of her dishes and her books. But when I read it again, I realized that it makes sense that she'd want these objects in order, since she has no control over anything else happening around her, from the political situation to her husband's hair falling out. But she can control where the objects in her apartment go. Did you think of her interest in her apartment as related to mental illness, or the need for control, or perhaps neither?
SF: There are real tropes of the obsessive-compulsive woman, the hysterical woman. I think there's something interesting about trying to make something beautiful out of that. I like the idea that there was some kind of ritual in her decision to arrange objects and in the fact that she could gain a tiny bit of control in these tiny objects. Her gaze is getting closer and closer to all objects, including her husband's hair. She's not looking outside at all. I thought less of it as control and more in terms of what she was looking at and what she was interested in. She was interested in smallness; she was not interested in the large things happening. I thought of it more as what we look at and what we're interested in looking at, less in terms of her having some of disorder.
ERK: I'm wondering how sex works in your stories...
SF: [Laughs] How does sex work in general? I'm really still trying to figure it out. No idea—it's pretty complicated.
ERK: I know, it's so convoluted. In "Field," sex is a means of insemination and power over women, and in "Husband", it's so deglamourised and unromanticized, with lines like, "I try to stick my nipple in his mouth. To rub him like a chicken ready for roasting."
SF: Now that you're talking about it, the love in both those stories is really asexual. In "Husband," the fact that they're not sleeping together does not mean that they don't love each other, and in "In This Field, This Place," there's a suggestion of a really tender love story, but there's no sex involved. So I guess maybe I do have certain feelings about violence in sexuality, something inherently violent in sex, that I'm expressing in these stories. It's an interest for me, but again, I guess I'm interested in it in the same way that I'm interested in the psychological landscape of these characters as something that is really difficult and demanding and I'm interested in finding the best way to represent it without a kind of diagnostic tendency. Sex means this in these contexts and means something else in other contexts. I'm not entirely sure how it works.
To read Sara Freeman's story "Husband," pick up a copy of Maisonneuve Issue 45 (Fall 2012) or order it online.