Q and A with Jessica Treadway, LACY EYE
Tell us a little about your new novel. It's a book about (and narrated by) a woman torn between the competing values of wishing to know the truth about the crime that devastated her family, and also wishing to preserve her perceptions and feelings about her youngest daughter and their relationship.
Critics have spoken about how you're confronting the nature of evil in this novel. What did you find most challenging about this...I guess I'd call it a psychological exercise?
You know, I didn't think the word "evil" as I was writing, although I do think it's an apt one. To me, the psychological exercise that was most challenging was that of rendering, in a first person narrative, the evolving state of mind of someone who gradually comes to understand that she may be hiding things from herself, because it's easier and preferable to see reality as prettier than it might actually be.
What are some of the books (and/or films) that inspired you as you were writing (or preparing to write) LACY EYE?
I'm always inspired by good writing, no matter what the subject or style — it just makes me want to produce my own best work, because I want to create in someone else the effect a good story has on me as a reader. I can't say that I actively sought out books that were like mine, but I did read Defending Jacob by William Landay when I was finishing my final draft, and it struck me that Landay and I seemed to be writing about the same thing: a variation of willful blindness. I also enjoyed Woody Allen's depiction of the same phenomenon in Blue Jasmine.
Hanna, the narrator, mother and bereaved wife who, like her husband was nearly murdered too, is an amazing character. How did she evolve?
She was really the most difficult character I think I've ever written, in terms of what it took for me to understand and portray her. Originally, I conceived of her as a very rough, uneducated woman, but I realized I had gone in that direction because I thought that a lack of sophistication might explain her inability to see what was in front of her. But it didn't take me long to remember that a desire or need to fool ourselves has nothing to do with intelligence. It has more to do with self-awareness, and how willing we are to face and experience unpleasant truths, especially if we think we can't survive them emotionally.
How long did you work on this book? How many drafts did you write before it went into galleys?
Well, the crime the story is based on occurred in my upstate New York hometown in 2004, and the college-age son was convicted of killing his father, and attempting to kill his mother, in 2006. I started writing shortly after that, because I was fascinated by one detail from the reporting of that trial: that the mother, who originally identified her son as the attacker to the police, stood by him throughout the trial and steadfastly maintained that he never could have done such a thing. Every time I read a quote from her, it was always on the order of "I can't believe my son would ever have done this" rather than "I know my son did not do this." To me, her own words were the most telling indication that her defense of him might have arisen from her need to believe he hadn't done it, rather than an actual core conviction that he was innocent. Of course, I have no idea what was actually in her mind — that was just my inference and interpretation, which led me to want to explore what it would be like to inhabit that conflict.
In terms of drafts, too many to count! But I was also working on stories at the same time, and teaching. It took six or seven years from beginning to end, around interruptions and other commitments.
What are you working on now (if you don't mind telling us)? I'm happy to, and thanks for asking. I'm writing a novel that's different from my previous two, in that it's told from four different perspectives rather than one, and in the third person rather than the first. It also seems to be more political than I originally intended, but I think that's probably better than if I'd started out intending to write a political novel. I've bitten off a lot with this one, and I feel simultaneously nervous and excited about trying to pull it off.