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An Interview With Laurie Frankel
If there’s one book from the last few years that I wish more people would read, it’s Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is. It was an easy choice as one of my favorite reads of 2021 and I haven’t stopped thinking about this moving portrait of a loving family in the midst of a big change.
I also recently finished Frankel’s most recent novel, One Two Three, which is an incredibly unique look at how the teenaged Mitchell triplets confront a long-simmering local tragedy and do some growing up along the way.
The earnestness, empathy, and caring found in Frankel’s work is a breath of fresh air in a modern literary landscape full of sarcasm and cynicism.
I’m honored that she took the time to answer a few questions for me. I’ll be reading from these recommendations for a long time!
Let's start with an icebreaker! I read on your website that you make good soup. I'd love to know your favorite — both to consume and make. Is there a recipe you're comfortable sharing?
Ha! It’s so funny to me that that’s become part of my official bio and (therefore) one of the questions I get asked most often. I’ve been posting pics of my soups on Instagram as a result. I’m thinking of starting on salads too.
I can’t share a recipe, not because I’m not comfortable, but because I don’t have any. I feel like the beauty of soup is that you saute an onion and then just keep throwing whatever you’ve got on hand into a pot until it tastes good. This is also, as it happens, the way I write novels.
My most frequently made is probably lentil kale soup, in part because I always have the ingredients in my pantry/fridge, in part because I have a kid to feed and it’s sooo good for you, and in part because it’s easy and delicious.
Your books center on love and family. What are some of your favorite family-focused books?
I mean, there are so, so many, especially since I like to define (and write and read about) family pretty broadly and non-traditionally. Some favorites: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, Kantika by Elizabeth Graver, The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt, Foster by Claire Keegan. And Hamlet. Hamlet’s a goodie.
You show a lot of sensitivity and empathy in your work, particularly when it comes to voices that aren't often heard in fiction (transgender people, people with disabilities, etc). What are some of your favorite bookish examples of these under-represented communities?
Thank you, I appreciate that. Some favorite books by/about trans people: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Stuck in the Middle With You by Jennifer Finney Boylan, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.
Some favorite books by/about disabled people: So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, Year of the Tiger by Alice Wong, If At Birth You Don’t Succeed by Zach Anner, Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer, Fearlessly Different by Mickey Rowe.
In a related vein, books/reading can be a form of advocacy and storytelling can be a protest. Are there any books you'd recommend for folks looking to be better allies and protesters on behalf of communities still fighting for their civil rights?
Honestly, any of them. As many as possible. I believe to the tips of my toes that writing and sharing stories, reading and telling and retelling them, engaging with other people’s stories in every way possible is the best advocacy, the best allyship there is.
So read widely, read constantly, read the ones that make you feel seen, read the ones that make you feel uncomfortable or invisible or confused or at sea, read the ones that comfort and the ones that discomfit. Read without worry about your agenda or the author’s. As long as you’re reading and thinking about what you’re reading, you’re making the world a better place. It’s such good work.
The audiobook version of One Two Three is incredible, featuring a different voice actor for each of the narrators, as well as an authentic speech device for Mirabel. Was this your vision for the audiobook from the get-go? It almost listens like a made-for-audio drama.
Macmillan Audio did an incredible, incredible job, and I am so grateful. I don’t usually have much to do with the audiobook — it’s far outside my skill set — but in this case it was clear to me early on that the audiobook was going to have to overcome some significant challenges (not unlike the characters in the book).
One Two Three is narrated by three different girls, one of whom, Mirabel, uses three different voices. It was really important that the sisters sound different from one another (because they navigate the world so differently) but also that Mirabel’s three voices be very different from one another. As you say, one of Mirabel’s voices is a machine, and that needed to be authentic, but it was also a translation issue — that machine doesn’t sound weird to Mirabel or her sisters because they’re used to it, so it couldn’t sound too strange or jarring or foreign to the listener. I brought all these concerns to Macmillan Audio, and they figured out beautiful answers to all of them. They did a fantastic job.
Are there writers or books that have especially influenced your writing, whether on a stylistic level or simply as inspiration for your career?
Also so, so many. So many. I am always reading. I read while I write — like literally while I write, so I have a book open on my lap and the laptop on the desk, a book on a pillow next to me while I’m typing on the sofa. I am not a particularly fast reader, but because I am always doing it, I usually read about a book a week. Because I am a novelist, I am almost always reading fiction, but within that, I read as widely and variously as I can. And I’m influenced by all of them, even when I don’t like something or don’t think it works — sometimes those are the books from which I learn the most.
What kind of reading do you do in your free time? Any favorite genres or authors you return to?
All the reading I do is work. And all of it is also enjoyable. For fun I read plays. Shakespeare — which has to be pure fun because none of us can emulate Shakespeare — but other plays as well. Plays (with the admitted exception of Shakespeare) are pretty quick reads, so you can get through the whole thing in a sitting. And they’re doing what novels are doing — telling a story beginning to end carried by character — but with one hand tied behind their backs. So they teach you a lot too.
This might be covered in the above questions, but do you have any all-time favorite books that have had an outsized influence on your life? Books you think about and recommend on a regular basis?
It’s true I’ve listed lots of my very favorites in the questions above. Other favorites though: The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Trees by Percival Everett, A Spot of Bother (another great family story!) by Mark Haddon, My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, The God of Small Things by Adundhati Roy (again, great family story) (apparently I really like family stories), The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Wow, this answer is pretty all over the place. Did I mention Hamlet?