Two fantastic interviews with Robin McLean have surfaced recently, carrying provocative, fascinating discussions on her new fiction collection Reptile House. Likened to Donald Barthelme, George Saunders, and Lydia Davis for stories that are "satirical, ironic, and hilarious" with a "sarcastic subtext of who we are and how we are choosing to live," McLean discusses some of the book's surprises with the Nashville Review. "Look, we walk around, most of us, me included, and I think we’re each 'normal' and also 'weirdoes,'" she says. "We love stories and murder-ridden TV shows. We are bullied by bosses at the office, then turn around and bully the principle at the PTA meeting. Humans have range. Devils and angels. I think no one is innocent, that life is messy, that perfection is overrated, and that imperfection is often amusing. I’ve heard this quote that a writer’s job is to 'Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.' This is really what I’m after." In another interview by Alden Jones of the Fiction Writers Review, McLean discusses her writing process and the complex darkness of her stories. Comparing fiction writing to figure skating and pottery, McLean says, "Crashing is not failure in the journey to a double axel. There is no other way. You must fling yourself, jump as high as you can knowing you will crash, get up, and repeat, all in the hope that someday, after some bruising, you will land on a deep soft knee, on one strong flowing edge—beautiful. This landing, when it happens, feels simple, inevitable, and also ecstatic. . . . There can be a tingle in the body, a little ecstasy, in getting a story right." Previously a potter in the woods of Alaska, she continues, "My revision process is all about subtraction. I take out every word I can, squeeze and squeeze the stories, just like clay. Some stories in the collection are fuller than others, for good reason I think, but I love the 'hammered' sound, that tightness, generally. . . . I learned in pottery that perfection is overrated. All my pots were lumpy somewhere." "I hope readers feel some complicated empathy at the end of the book," says McLean. "Squirm a little, yes, but feel sort of happy about the squirm. That’s what I felt while writing it: Can I write this? Can I really sit still and commit this act of violence with my fingers? What does it mean about me that I did? And how do you actually explore human beings without getting into our inherent dark half? . . . I really wanted that colorful patterned snake on the cover. Reptiles are both beautiful and threatening, familiar and utterly foreign. . . . I’ve found since the book came out that some people cannot look at that snake on the cover. They must actually look away for the cover of the book—the snake is that repulsive to them—which is fascinating to me, a kind of cool and raw admission. Cut off the cover, I’ve said to them. Tear off the snake and just read it." Click Here to read the full interview by the Nashville Review. Click here to read the full interview by the Fiction Writers Review. Reptile House is available at the BOA Bookstore.
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