Ferrell’s Dear Miss Metropolitan explores both individual and collective suffering through the story of three young women abducted and held captive for years (Holt, July.).
Your novel is loosely inspired by the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland in the early aughts. What drew you to the story?
I’m not normally interested in true crime, but what struck me was the aftermath. What is the community’s responsibility to the girls? How can they be healed? How do you function after that in the world? These questions were buzzing around in my mind. And I didn’t want to write a retelling of the Ariel Castro story, because I didn’t feel it was my place to tell the women’s stories.
Queens., where the novel is set, is a vibrant character in its own right. What is your relationship to the borough?
As a child my family drove through Queens and there was something so vast about it. I grew up in a small town on Long Island, where everybody knew each other and as a kid, I just thought, oh, my God, you come into the city to get lost. As an adult, what I’ve come to appreciate, although I’ve never lived in Queens, is the small neighborhoods, the pockets of people who really know each other. I thought it would be a perfect setting for this book because it’s bustling and diverse, sprawling, but also a place where the girls would be easily hidden, a place to be just completely swallowed up.
Fairy tales are woven throughout the novel. What do they represent to you?
I’ve always loved fairy tales. My mom is German and I grew up reading the really violent Grimm stories. When I wrote the first 100 pages, I thought to myself, the only way these girls could have survived was to move into a completely different realm. All characters need to have an escape hatch and these women had to rely on fantasy, where the real and the unreal would comingle, in order for life to become survivable.
Tell me about the trauma of erasure for these women.
After first reading about the Ariel Castro case, I just thought, what would it be like to not be seen and heard for 10 years? And when I was trying to encapsulate what Dear Miss Metropolitan was about, I realized that the #MeToo movement was asking similar questions: “Am I being seen?” and “Am I being heard?” Miss Metropolitan, a neighbor, is consumed by guilt. Why didn’t she intuit that something was going on? But I was also thinking about the lives of the girls beforehand. None of them were taken seriously before they were kidnapped, which ultimately made the kidnappings all the easier. I was quite captivated by this idea. Nobody wants to be unseen and unheard.