10 Questions with Rachel Pastan

This Side of Married cover
Rachel Pastan grew up in suburban Maryland and attended Harvard College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has published short stories in magazines like The Threepenny Review and Mademoiselle, and won the Arts and Letters Fiction prize and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She has received fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Delaware Arts Council, and she has been a Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. This Side of Married was selected for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers series.

1. What are you reading right now?

Imamorata by Joseph Gangemi, as part of my campaign to be familiar with the
work of Philadelphia writers (I moved to the Philadelphia area a few years
ago). It’s the story of a psychic-phenomena debunker in Philly in the
1920s–very well written and compelling. My favorite book of the past few
months is Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, the story of the author’s intense
friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, who died of a drug overdose (suicide?)
several years ago.

2. Do you write to music? If so, what was the soundtrack for This Side
of Married
?

No, I write to silence. I’m always going around turning off radios and CDs and
the children’s story tapes, and putting ticking watches away into drawers.
Anything with a rhythm gets in the way of the rhythm of the sentences.

3. What’s the most surprising comparison you’ve heard when people talk
about your book? Has anyone compared your novel or your writing to the
work of another author in an unexpected way?

I was surprised that my editor felt This Side of Married was like a Laurie
Colwin novel. I love Laurie Colwin but had not thought our work was alike.
Then I reread Family Happiness and the parallels in subject matter and mood
were frighteningly apparent.

4.Sisterhood is at the heart of This Side of Married. Parents always
say they love all their children equally, but I have a hunch they’re
just being diplomatic. Which of the three sisters are you most
attached to?

Oh, I love Isabel! She’s not as mean and impossible as Tina, but she has more
of an edge to her than Alice. Alice can be stern sometimes, but I like someone
with an edge.

5. What’s your favorite book from childhood?

Charlotte’s Web. I wish I had a more interesting choice, but E.B. White takes
everything he knows about life–and death–and works it all into this book. It
also has some of the most beautiful sentences in all of literature.

6. What’s your favorite Philadelphia eatery?

Vetri! Incredible Northern Italian food in a the lovely, relaxed atmosphere of
a Society Hill townhouse. The only drawback is how difficult it is to get a
reservation. In a (much) more informal vein, I also love Johnny Brenda’s (a
dive bar with terrific food–grilled octopus, falafel) in Fishtown.

7. What other titles were in the running for your book before you
decided on , and why did This Side of Marriedseem
like the perfect fit?

At First Sight, The Second Sister, Men and Other Reptiles. This Side of
Married makes it clear the book is about marriage/love/relationships without
being too straight-forward about it.

8. You’ve been doing a lot of readings since the paperback release.
What question would you least want an audience member at a reading to ask?

Well, the question I get asked most frequently that I don’t like is: Why did
such and-such a character do *that*? I think the person asking really wants me
to explain why, but I feel the book itself should explain way. If it doesn’t,
then the book has failed. So I hear those questions as criticisms, whether or
not they’re meant that way.

9. Let’s say someone fell in love with your book and wanted to show
his or her appreciation by bringing a gift of a food item to one of
the readings. What item would be most likely to inspire your
everlasting gratitude?

Buratta, the mozzarella-like cheese from Northern Italy; or petit fours.

10. What’s in your attic? If you don’t have one, what’s in your hall
closet?

I’m not sure what’s up there, except what’s closest to the stairs: suitcases,
outgrown clothes from one child waiting for the younger one to get bigger,
winter boots, sharp nails sticking out of the floor, and a vast quantity of
filters for the air conditioner.

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