Kaylie Jones: On Writing The Anger Meridian
I have always been fascinated by unreliable first-person narrators, going back to their earliest incarnations in literature. I have asked myself often in my own life, where is the line between madness and sanity? Between taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and being incapable of such a thing? It is a fine gray line and I certainly have not come up with one clear black-and-white answer. Studying unreliable narrators over a period of twenty or so years, one thing became apparent to me: they are all in denial. But how does one write about denial? Denial is certainly not an absence of information; rather, it is a refusal to admit certain facts. The facts must be described clearly, but the narrator’s interpretation of those facts must diverge from the facts themselves. Denial takes a great deal of energy.
When my mother was dying of alcoholism, I often felt as if I were standing on the deck of the Titanic, rearranging the deck chairs. I didn’t know what to do. I had the dim thought, which I could hardly have admitted at the time, that everything would be so much better if she would die quickly, rather than slowly, and with such violence and rage and resentment that she pretty thoroughly destroyed what was left of her family.
With this in mind, I began to construct the premise for a novel. What if my main character had a primal wound, a crack in her psyche that she needed at all costs to protect? What if she knew, on some deeply hidden, subconscious level, that her mother never loved her, but she felt it necessary to deny this fact to herself and to the rest of the world? What if she spent her entire life trying to please a mother who could never be pleased, or satisfied?
And what if, ultimately, my character were forced to make a split-second decision that would forever tear down the walls that surrounded that very private and primal lie?
While in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 2004, where I was teaching a writing workshop with my lifelong friend Beverly Donofrio, I began to create the scenario for this new novel. My character would escape, penniless, from the US, following the death of her husband in a car accident, in which he would be caught literally with his pants down, and the scandal would be terrible. My character would have nowhere to run but to her mother, happily living an idyllic expatriate life in San Miguel de Allende. Arriving penniless on her mother’s doorstep, forty years old, with a nine-year-old daughter, would be the end of a long road of bad decisions she’d made only to satisfy and appease her mother.
I was standing on the terrace of the house where the workshops were being held, at the edge of a retaining wall that dropped hundreds of feet into a canyon, when my then-seven-year-old daughter approached and stood beside me. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “You’re thinking that this would be a great place to have your character push her mother over the edge.” That was exactly what I was thinking.
“I’m not sure she could do it,” I told my daughter.
For the next four or five days, my daughter and I argued about whether or not my character would, in fact, be capable of pushing her mother off a cliff. I had no idea, really, if she would be capable of such a thing until I reached the end of the book.
And that is how this story was born.
KAYLIE JONES has published seven books, including a memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, and her most recent novel, The Anger Meridian. Her novel A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries was adapted as a Merchant Ivory film in 1998. Jones has been teaching for more than twenty-five years, and is a faculty member in the Stony Brook Southampton MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program and in Wilkes University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. She is the author of Speak Now and the editor of Long Island Noir. Her newest endeavor is her publishing imprint with Akashic Books, Kaylie Jones Books.
Posted: Jul 14, 2015
Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: Mexico, Akashic Insider, Texas, Writing, Dallas, Kaylie Jones, daughters, author statement, The Anger Meridian, San Miguel de Allende, unreliable narrators, denial, parenting, relationships, mothers
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