YZM: What was the inspiration for this collection of linked stories?
MB: I actually did not set out to write a collection of linked stories. I found that after I finished writing one story, however, I had the urge to retell the tale from various points of view. I liked the idea of seeing these characters at their worst, best, and also as neutral bystanders. For example, Hannah Solonsky steals the family silver in “Sylvia’s Spoon” and appears as the emerging matriarch in both “Skin” and “Ladies Night.” Pretty soon, I’d created a universe of people who were all linked to Bertrand Court, a suburban Washington, D.C., cul-de-sac.
YZM: Many of the stories deal with the infertility; how do you think readers of different ages will respond?
MB: I suppose if I’ve done my job well, readers will connect with the characters and, in turn, their trouble and the larger ideas/truths of the story. So even if they haven’t experienced infertility specifically, they might respond to the themes of loss, broken dreams, or unresolved grief.
YZM: Family dynamics are another major theme here; were you looking for the hidden stories, the ones your characters try not to see?
MB: The hidden stories evolved from getting to know my characters and seeing and presenting them through a variety of different lenses. This is the beauty of a linked story collection! The characters’ blind spots and secrets are revealed through the recasting of their experiences.
YZM: The collection features a lot about Jewish life.
MB: The Jewish ritual and observance add both tension and a layer of meaning to the stories. For example, in “Skin,” the highly charged ritual of a bris unearths relationship tensions between an interfaith couple. In “Molly Flanders,” an anomic heiress searches for meaning by stealing a tallis from her neighbor, who is a spiritual seeker in her own right.
YZM: Certain foods recur: raspberries, icebox cake, brisket and a couple of others; care to comment?
MB: A variety of images recur throughout the collection and tie the stories together. For example, in “Sylvia’s Spoon,” after losing yet another pregnancy, Hannah reaches out to her dead aunt Sylvia by visiting her aunt’s raspberry patch (among other things, but I won’t ruin the story). In “What Hannah Never Knew,” we see a young Aunt Sylvia offer a bowl of the fruit to her sister and learn about Sylvia’s futile attempts to “be fruitful.” Other non-food images such as a trampoline, Adirondack chairs, and a fire pit, reappear throughout the book as well.
YZM: What’s the one question I did not ask but you wish I had?
MB: I’m not so sure I wish you’d asked this question, but many readers have. Are any of these characters based on me? And the answer would be that there’s a piece of me in every single character, from the dried up politico who substitutes triathlon training for the daily rush of power to the developmentally disabled woman who sees what her brother cannot. Yet, none of these characters are actually me. So the answer would be definitively yes and definitively no.