The stories in Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, find characters on the cusp of life-altering events.
Your distinctive way of looking at the world combines humor and tragedy. How have you come to fuse those elements in your work?
You write the way you think about the world. My motto in times of trouble—and I’m speaking of life, not writing—is no humor too black. I need humor much more than sympathy or philosophy. Humor reminds you, when you’re flattened by sorrow, that you’re still human.
Why is loss such an important theme in this collection?
I’d say it has something to do with my age, or losses I’ve gone through, but it seems to me that has probably been true as long as I’ve written. I’m interested in how family history shapes everything (my grandfather was the editor of the American Genealogist), and you can’t go back very far in anyone’s family without hitting significant and telling loss.
You’re married to Edward Carey, an artist and a playwright who also writes unconventional novels. Do you share your creative ideas with each other?
Not when they’re at the level of ideas—that is, specific ideas for our specific work. We talk all the time about all kinds of things that make their way into our writing: museums, movies, the inner lives of long-dead relatives, the inner lives of living and tight-lipped relatives, and books (of course). At a certain point, we read each other’s work. I couldn’t do without his advice, once I’ve finished a draft of something. But we’re pretty careful not to have our fingers in each other’s writing while we’re really working.
You wrote about having a stillborn child in An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, but since then you’ve had two kids. How do you feel they have affected your writing?
It’s hard to know which made me more aware of the impossibility of protecting children—having a child die or having had two live. Ordinarily, I’d claim that I’d never write directly about my children, but the opening conversation of “Peter Elroy” is a verbatim conversation that my children had that I just loved: morbid, funny, passionate, and obsessed with the truth of things—all natural qualities of children that I’d like my work to contain.