Victoria Patterson is the author of two books, Drift, a set of interconnected short stories, and now This Vacant Paradise, her first novel, which released early in March 2011. I recently read This Vacant Paradise and very much enjoyed it - it was very thought-provoking and real. A really good book, and I'd recommend it to anyone in need of a little perspective in their lives. If you missed my review, check it out here.
Thank you, Victoria, for taking the time to answer some questions!
Q: This Vacant Paradise depicts a lifestyle that is ostensibly glamourous, beautiful and enviable, but shows that all that glitters is not gold. What initially inspired you to examine the other side of so called "charmed" lives?
A: I lived in Newport Beach during junior high and high school, and it was then that I decided that I would write about it. Through the years, I saw the way that Orange County was depicted in the media, giving it this cultural mystique, and it wasn't how I experienced it. So that fueled me even more. And I was always more interested in those that lived on the fringes of wealth.
Q: There is quite a bit of discrimination and prejudice and intolerance depicted in your book, specifically taking form as Grandma Eileen's opinions, and no open dissenting views are given to contradict her. Is it difficult for you, as a social critic, to avoid "preaching" for fairness and equality in your work?
A: I don't want my work to be didactic. At the same time, I'm trying to make a larger statement. So that's the challenge. When I lived in Newport, I was up against it. Just the other day, my close friend from high school reminded me of when our high school civics teacher took a class vote. How many of you are Republicans? he asked. Every hand but mine went up. I didn't know what I was, but I somehow knew that I wasn't a Republican. (As a side note, the civics teacher was so glad that I didn't raise my hand, he chose me to go on this big field trip deal, even though I wasn't the best student.)
Now and then, I'll visit Newport, and it's just so beautiful. There's something about Newport--having to do with the ocean--that makes me feel sane and content. And I'll think, Maybe I'm too harsh in my work. Maybe it's not so bad. Then I'll hear something, like how the schools didn't want their children to watch President Obama being inaugurated, and so were banning it. Or just recently, how they're putting a statue of Ronald Reagan in at Castaways park, even though it's a park and should be free from politics.
Q: In This Vacant Paradise, Esther believes that "For women like her, ambition is a series of self-denials" including not being too unfeminine, or fat, or opinionated or educated, or to pursue an identity separate from one's family. I found this section fascinating because all of the qualities she mentions are exactly what makes us who we are. Is there any trait or aspect of yourself that you would trade for immense wealth and security?
A: I agree--and for Esther, she's constantly restraining herself. She's alert to what is wanted from her, and she's constantly being formed by that.
I'd get rid of some of my more ugly traits for immense wealth and security in a heart beat. Ego and pride--see you later. I'll swap that for a lovely home and health insurance and the money for a guaranteed college education for both my sons. Otherwise, no. I'd like to hang on to and cultivate the traits that make me a better human. Although it's far easier to say that than to live it.
Q: Your previous book, Drift, is a series of related short stories. When it comes to writing, do you prefer the novel or the short story format?
A: They're sort of combined for me, because both of them take so much time and commitment. I like the short story form because you can take breaks and move on to other stories, and then go back. But with novels, you're married to your characters without breaks. I've just always been pulled into writing, consumed by it.
Q: If you could recommend one "must-read" book to people (besides your own, of course), what would you choose?
A: Such a difficult question! There are so many amazing books, I'm not sure how to narrow it down to one. Possibly Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary or George Eliot's Middlemarch. I'm sorry, can't pick one.
Thank you again, Victoria! :)
I own both of those books, but have read neither, sadly! I think I will have to move them up my to-read list!