The trauma of being a teen was brought home to Claire Messud when her teenaged daughter’s best friend summarily dumped her during the first week of high school. That experience plus a teen suicide in the author’s own childhood circle of friends sparked her new novel, The Burning Girl (Norton, Aug.), a coming-of-age story about two friends whose relationship implodes during adolescence.
“I was always haunted by that suicide,” Messud says, “and watching my daughter traverse the perilous ground of adolescence brought back to me so vividly that time in my own life. The experiences that they had is part of what made me want to write about it now.”
A keen observer of how our culture affects our lives in books like The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs, among others, Messud is stunned by how the media portrays teenagers. “The fictional narratives that television, film, and the news provide for girls and young women are appalling,”she says. “The moments when they are at the center of attention are when they are disembodied, slaughtered, or kidnapped. I wanted to write against that in part, too.”
This is Messud’s sixth work of fiction, and while she never repeats herself, certain themes recur throughout her writing. “This sense in which so much of who we are doesn’t break the surface—our knowability to one another is always something I like to explore,” Messud says. “What is the truth? Is it what you experience; is it what I experience; or is there some objective truth in between? Another thing that I profoundly believe is that we are made up as much of the stories that we take in and internalize as we are of the experiences that we live through. I have said it somewhere—our literary lived lives are as important as our literally lived lives.”
It’s been a while since Messud last appeared at BookExpo. She laughs as she explains: “I know it was many years ago because Julia Child was there. This year’s Adult Book and Author breakfast seems like a Caryl Churchill play. I’m going to be meeting these amazing people, some of whom are writers, others of whom primarily have different careers and happen to have written books. I’m excited and daunted in equal measure.”
Today, 8–9:30 a.m. Claire Messud will appear at the Adult Book and Author Breakfast, Special Events Hall.
Today, 10–11 a.m. Messud will sign at the ABA Members Lounge booth (721).
Today, 11–11:30 a.m. Messud will sign at the Norton booth (1620).