A Conversation with Alix Kates Shulman

Alix Kates Shulman has been a passionate feminist voice for over 40 years, bringing to light questions of marital parity and other front-line issues of women’s rights in her memoirs and other nonfiction. Beginning with her first novel, the now- classic Memoirs of an Ex-Prom QueenShulman’s fiction has been praised for its wit, insight, and compassion. She is a past contributor to Lilith—the 1993 article “Gentiles and Jews at the Hop” and, most recently, an excerpt from her 2008 memoir To Love What IsReaders will welcome this spring’s back-to-back publications, A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays and the novel Menage,“a brilliantly wry and entertaining comedy of desires” (Booklist), that is “delightfully wicked” (Kirkus).

In your sharp and funny new novel Ménage, Heather McKay is a stay-at-home mother and, for most of the novel, a would-be writer who puts up with her husband’s affairs in exchange for the extravagant and trouble-free life he gives her. Yet when Mack brings a notable dissident writer to live with them, she is bold in her seduction of him, as if she has nothing to lose. What drives her?

What drives her is a combination of literary ambition and ambivalence about the status of stay-at-home moms. Also, since Mack roams freely in the world while she’s lonely at home, she’s angry at him for his affairs and feels no qualms about having one herself. Ambivalence concerning both stay-at-home and working mothers is something that does not go away—note its renewed flare-up over Ann Romney.  A recent Nation column by Katha Pollitt has the best analysis of that conundrum I’ve seen in ages.