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Attachment by Isabel Fonseca
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Attachment by Isabel Fonseca
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Jun 16, 2009 | ISBN 9780307386519

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  • Jun 16, 2009 | ISBN 9780307386519

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  • Apr 29, 2008 | ISBN 9780307269386

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“A gracefully written novel about aging, parents and children, and the mystery that even married partners can be to each other.” —The New York Times“Fonseca possesses a wonderful eye and vocabulary for the observable world [and] a natural gift for portraiture… She also regularly notices things men might wish women didn’t notice, though in other quarters might wish they did. All, though, is perfectly suited to her complex subject – one worth taking seriously: the difficulty of loving someone you already love, and its corollary, the stony impenetrability of others.” —Richard Ford“Fonseca’s vivisection of matrimony and desire is cruelly exacting.” —The New Yorker“Fearless. . . . Fonseca shows off a vicious humor and an unsparing prose style in this ink-dark foray into marriage’s murkier precincts.” —Vogue"[Attachment is a] savvy, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tender voyage into one woman’s midlife crisis [with] a surprisingly refreshing denouement…It’s a great read."—Sally Valongo, The Toledo Blade"Just thinking of this novel, I smile. Attachment was so gratifyingly readable. It is plot-rich, which most literary novels are not: an airport novel with an agreeably sophisticated air. This is Isabel Fonseca’s first novel, and she seems born to the fictional trade…When it comes to deciphering our new world and its emotional intricacies, Fonseca is spot on." —Fay Weldon, Financial Times"Fonseca charts Jean’s emotional temperature and her thought processes with brisk lucidity. And she excels at the art of description—of car rides through the streets of London and around a poor but lushly flowering island; of shaving a bed-ridden parent; of examining one’s husband with a loving but honest eye." —Misha Berson, The Seattle Times“An astute observer of human behavior, both real and imagined, [and] a literary heavyweight…Fonseca ultimately transforms the familiar into the foreign, forcing both her characters and her readers to examine their unquestioned perceptions about who they and their loved ones really are.” —Chelsea Bauch, Time Out New York"Not only smart but smart in a pleasing and all-too-uncommon way: It’s insightful about grown-ups in the throes of grown-up emotions…Fonseca is commendably clearheaded and unsentimental about the nature of attachment, particularly in long-standing relationships." —Adelle Waldman, New York Sun“A confident, smart first novel [with] a story that seems personal and deeply felt…Fonseca is especially adept at making middle age look shockingly similar to adolescence [in] all its corporeal and sexual insecurities.” —Helen Schulman, The New York Times Book Review“Fonseca’s exploration of middle-aged displacement, both mental and physical, is intelligent, nuanced and immensely satisfying…as fruity and delicious as the cocktails served on the fictional tropical island where it’s primarily set.” —Alexandra Jacobs, New York Observer“An acerbic, funny, and maddening coming-of-wisdom novel…Fonseca’s frank takes on sexuality, sexism, age, and how fear undermines love are canny and tonic.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review“Meandering and thoughtful…Intense and realistic, full of sexual imagery and churning emotion.” —Library Journal“A compelling fiction debut…Fonseca’s nonfiction Bury Me Standing drew a vivid portrait of the international Gypsy community, and she shifts locales and emotional registers with evocative ease here, delving deeply into her ensemble’s motivations. She’s as unsparing of their flaws as she is frank about their desires…A dramatic demonstration of the limits of attachment.” —Publishers Weekly

Author Q&A

Q. Your last book, Bury Me Standing, was an acclaimed nonfiction book about Gypsies. What made you want to delve into the world of fiction writing?
Like all writers, I write in order to explore and understand something that bothers me, or intrigues me, and like many writers, I think of my writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction or journalism as one continuous, if continuously interrupted, investigation. I may be making a suit in nonfiction and an evening gown in fiction, and so naturally I will be cutting from a different cloth. But non-fiction involves most of the same writerly and imaginative skills as a novel, just as in fiction you also have to do justice to the truth of things. But of course you do have wonderful freedom in fiction, and more of the work is done while you sleep, by your subconscious. Importantly, whatever the form, I do think it has one voice – mine.

Q. ATTACHMENT takes us into the life of a health columnist, Jean Hubbard, enjoying a sabbatical on a remote tropical island with her husband Mark, when her life is suddenly thrown off kilter by the arrival of a love letter addressed to Mark. Where did the initial idea for ATTACHMENT come from?
The arrival of a letter – the violent precipitant: something that comes at us from the outside and forces us to look within – is maybe not that unusual a fictional device. What is unusual is that Jean, the main character, chooses to answer the letter, as if she were her husband. Trying to understand him, and the affair he is apparently having, she puts herself ‘in his shoes.’ And takes a walk down a sometimes treacherous path. In this novel, I wanted to explore the idea of personal identity, which of course evolves over time at different speeds and in unexpected directions, particularly within the context of marriage. Identity: we hear a lot about its theft. Can it be borrowed? Tried on? Can we be cross-dressers of identity – this least negotiable yet surprisingly hazy department of the self? How well do you really know the people you love? I can’t tell you how this question first arrived in my mind, but I had a nagging need to answer it . . . or to try to. How far does empathy take us, even with the best faith in the world? In the course of a long marriage, where exactly does the self end and the other begin? Probably like any person in a longlived relationship, I was curious to explore the murky penumbra of the shared self, and to think about what it means to each participant: how similar is our experience of common events? How
does the difference shape each of us?

What, in trying to learn about the person closest to you, might you discover about yourself? Because along with personal identity come questions of personal responsibility, which I also think a lot about in this book. Who is responsible for my happiness? Jean, looking for something else, comes face to face with this conundrum. Thinking about how unlikely it is that we – any of us – should develop with anything like synchronicity, the question of difference is increasingly pressing, even if love itself is not in question.
And with difference, the notion of trust – which is not a passive thing. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion – which I saw again recently. I was surprised to find it echoed so closely both the atmosphere and themes of my novel.

Q. ATTACHMENT is divided into sections and set in three places: New York, London and the
imaginary island of St Jacques. What did you have in mind by structuring the novel this way?
I didn’t schematically set out to convey any particular symbolism via location (novels are written more mysteriously – to the writer – and more helplessly than readers may imagine), but one place, New York, is the childhood home of Jean, my protagonist; London is her marital or adult home, and St Jacques is ‘other,’ and therefore a place where she is not bound by the habits and expectations of the other two. I have noticed a kind of cold-eyed clarity when I travel, and again when I return home: I think we all get that in varying degrees. Very often, dislocation affords insight. You know how cars are called things like Explorer, Quest, Escapade, Discovery…? We are restless beings, in life and in fiction, which is all about life. Books often involve travel and then the strenuous effort to get home, whether from Narnia or Wonderland or Oz and, in a way, our heroine in ATTACHMENT, Jean, is also trying to get home. Although she doesn’t always know it, in her search for truth she journeys both to her childhood place and to her adopted London, where she has made her own family. The search for our lost Eden – and perhaps our future or alternative Eden–is certainly a theme in this book. St Jacques, an imaginary tropical island, offers a good sample of Eden, even a classic one, but you can speculate that the past, and the time before all kinds of knowledge, is Paradise. From birth to adulthood, or maturity, our lives can seem like a journey away from Eden and the desire to get back there; naturally fiction likes to follow this trajectory.

Q. The reality of aging is another theme in ATTACHMENT. Do you think the fear of aging is primarily a female anxiety?
To the extent that youthful beauty is so wildly prized in women, the inevitable waning may be more obviously painful and cruel for women, especially for beautiful ones, but I think everybody feels anxiety about aging. It may be the thing that most separates us from other animals, who don’t suffer anxiety about aging – a bare-bones form of consciousness. Not merely fretting over diminishing allure – which men also suffer, of course they do–but, more profoundly, and universally, over the gradual approach of death. I think death awareness is an experience, even a sensation, not unlike homesickness. Paradoxically: because one is dread while the other involves us in longing and nostalgia. These are very distracting, and sometimes distressing emotions. Which may be why we especially treasure the times and kinds of experience in which we are fully and necessarily in the heroic present during sex, for example, or when giving birth.

Q. Towards the conclusion of ATTACHMENT, one of the characters, in describing Jean, uses the phrase ‘your long vacation from reality.’ Much of the book, in fact, seems to involve Jean in a state of unreality.
Jean’s comfortable life has been thrown into disarray, as we have seen. Pretty much everything she takes for granted is suddenly called into question – her marriage, her health, her attractiveness, the value of the work she does, even the continuing existence of her beloved father. ‘Reality’ has become a slippery concept. Perhaps there are moments, within such episodes of unsolicited chaos, in which we have a special access to clarity. We have a glimmer of the way things really are. Jean finds herself in such a moment, unwillingly, and the rest of the time she is making sense of what that information tells her she must do.

Q. Your protagonist, Jean, is an American writer from New York living primarily in London, married to a British man. You are an American writer from New York living in London, married to a British man. Parallels are bound to be drawn. How similar (or different) are you to Jean?
You could go further along the road of spotting parallels. Like Jean, I went to Oxford and, like Jean, I had an older brother who died young. Jean has a daughter. I’ve got daughters. Jean and I both worked for a summer as a paralegal and when we were young teenagers we bought some pot in Washington Square. But these are details, plundered episodes. In bigger terms, Jean isn’t like me. Crucially, she is very innocent. She is, you might say, underexposed. Jean’s background is all-American, and fairly conventional- her parents are a lawyer and an event planner. My father was Uruguayan; he was a sculptor. My mother is a painter. Naturally, there are things from my own experience that I’m interested in drawing on and exploring: I am not a science-fiction writer. But neither is fiction a branch of journalism. I am not reporting from my life. I think it was Philip Roth who said “You don’t write about what happened. You write about what didn’t happen. Writers are sent down here precisely to imagine the ‘what ifs’.”

Q. You’re married to the British writer Martin Amis. What is it like to be part of a writing couple?
It’s very convenient. Probably only another writer could understand, and cope with, the utter distractedness of a person deeply at work on a book. There are other benefits, such as the shared joys of discussing punctuation over dinner. I do not mean this facetiously. Perhaps like pairs of lawyers or chefs, we enjoy a certain amount of shoptalk — of which I’d say I am the prime beneficiary. I feel very lucky to share the building with one of our finest living prose writers. Writing is a lonely profession, and this suits us, obviously; but there is comfort to be had from a shared solitude. We don’t read one another’s pages at the end of the day, but we are alone in this together.

Q. What’s next for you as a writer?
Another novel. Although – from what I know about it so far – it may be as different from this one as a work of non-fiction could be. Readers tend to have this one basic misconception about writing: that people sit down and choose what they’re going to write about. It isn’t quite like that. While you can decide what sort of journalism you’re going to take on, with books, it’s more likely that they’re going to choose you – even when you’re very busy doing something else, or earnestly attempting to write another kind of book entirely. I was at work on a different novel when ATTACHMENT came along and cut in line. Of course some people only write poetry, or financial thrillers, or fishing books. But mainstream, or non-genre, writers are sort of up for grabs — even when it comes to finding the best form for the subject, there’s a full rainbow of possibilities between factual reporting at one end and pure fiction down at the other.

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