Paula Bomer’s collection of stories and a novella is fierce, funny and filthy. The author of “Baby” and “Nine Months” is not your people-pleasing fiction writer. Her prose is crisp and clear and propulsive but she never pauses to ask: is it pretty? Do you like me? Some of her characters may be doormats seeking and thwarting unconditional love but, as an author, Bomer is brave, often mortifyingly so. Some of these stories are so naked emotionally that they cry out to be covered up with a towel – but Bomer resists, documenting every stretch mark, every gooey sex act, every human hunger. The stories and novella are about adolescents and young women who screw, drink, smoke and suffer toward some sense of identity, and a final nugget of unexpected emotional truth, but they are never blamers. They are fat girls and slim, workers in halfway houses and inmates, college girls tied at the hip to the party keg and Friday night ice skaters slugging back peppermint schnapps, daddy’s girls and mommy’s enemies. They sometimes echo each other, circling geography in South Bend, Indiana, or Boston, Massachusetts, or the East Village of Manhattan, struggling with anorexia and love-drug addiction. My favorite story is called “Pussies,” about a doormat of a young college graduate, all angles and jangly limbs and drunk more often than not. Her relationship with a trust-fund fueled girlfriend goes south when an apartment building catches fire and she rescues the girl’s cats but in a desperate survivor’s way that alienates the vegan rich girl (but spares the animals). The Madeleine of the title, and main character in the novella that concludes the slim volume, is a Midwestern “Precious,” a fat girl whose folds of skin both fascinate her and protect her from a world that continually serves up rejection. These are not dainty stories to be read one at a time. Instead, binge-drink them for the shock value – and stay for the awe.
Paula Bomer writes about pregnancy as if she were a man: bold, transgressive and overtly sexual. There have been countless road novels, but none about a hormonally-driven pregnant mother in search of her soul. Eye-opening! Shocking! Satisfying!
Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with women writers. Here, we dance chick-to-chick with gutsy Brooklyn writer, mother, wife and homeowner Paula Bomer, 42. The acclaimed author doesn’t swaddle the truth when discussing her debut fiction collection Baby & Other Stories, praised as “raw and angry” by Publisher’s Weekly.
Thelma Adams: How old were you when you came out of the closet as a writer?
Paula Bomer: I started writing fiction in high school. After I graduated from college with a degree in psychology, I began writing fiction more regularly, knowing it was what I wanted to do. By 22, I began taking workshops. I applied to graduate writing programs at 24.
TA: What did you like to read as a kid?
PB: I read everything. As a young girl I read all the Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume books. I loved Madeline Lengle.
TA: And what did you read as a young adult?
PB: By the age of twelve, I had run out of children’s books and began reading things that went above my head. I read everything by Toni Morrison. And with great delight and horror, I read Wifey by Judy Blume. How shocking that the Blume of my grade school years could write so explicitly about sex! It was a very exciting time, moving toward books for grown ups, even if I didn’t understand everything.
TA: What was the first dirty passage you read in a book?
PB: Well, that might have been Wifey. I loved Chaucer in high school. In college, I went through a stage of reading Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski: all sorts of dirty stuff but it was “literature,” too. Later, Philip Roth, Mary Gaitskill and Alicia Erian, to name a few, also showed me how writing explicitly about sexual matters doesn’t belittle the work.
TA: What did you wish when you were first starting out as a writer?
PB: I wished to be published and read and, quite frankly, to cause a certain amount of trouble, the trouble that Henry Miller caused, the trouble that Philip Roth caused with Portnoy’s Complaint. I’m over that, for the most part. I’m not ashamed of wanting to cause trouble – you can’t tell me Roth didn’t have the same childish desire – but it’s fine to be over it, too. [Read more…]