For someone who has been referred to as a chick-lit writer, Laura Moriarty, who will be in Albuquerque this week, is both thoughtful and candid about the state of fiction in the U.S. and where her work fits in. “I worry that the subtle but persistent marginalization of women writers ... is a slippery slope—for certain people, ‘chick-lit’ refers to any book that has a predominantly female cast,” Moriarty notes. But “you don’t see The Kite Runner categorized as Men’s Fiction, though all the major characters are male. I don’t even think most book stores have a section for Men’s Fiction, unless it refers to gay literature. As I understand it, Men’s Fiction is just called Fiction.
“That’s sort of the unspoken rule,” Moriarty goes on. “Literature—Moby Dick, The Lord of the Flies—can be almost entirely populated by male characters, but if a book has mostly female characters, it becomes ‘women’s fiction.’ The implication is that stories about women’s lives are ‘lite’ and frivolous simply because they are about women. But I don’t write chick-lit. I write books about women. Our lives are as serious and as full of wonder and grief as men’s, and a female protagonist does not equal a beach read.”
Moriarty is equally straightforward about her writing process. “I considered the plot for The Rest of Her Life before I developed any of the characters. That’s supposed to be a big no-no—in graduate creative writing programs, you hear a lot about how you’re supposed to come up with characters first unless you’re just writing a mindless pot-boiler. But for this book … I really wanted to investigate a particular situation.”
In Moriarty's second novel, teenaged Kara seems to have it all—she’s beautiful, athletic, smart and popular—until the fateful afternoon she runs over a high school classmate. For her mother, Leigh, the accident becomes the source of further estrangement from Kara, as well as the catalyst for reflection on her own troubled relationship with her alcoholic mother as she was growing up. Moriarty also explores the roles people play in their families, and in their towns, and how, somehow, even as their day-to-day world seems to shatter, Kara and Leigh begin to forge a stronger connection.
Moriarty loves the escape writing fiction offers, “just as reading a novel allows someone to enter another world.” But when asked what she’s working on now, she laughs. “I hope I’m working on my next novel,” she says, “but when I start on a project, I spend a lot of time worrying I’m on the wrong track—the wrong idea, the wrong point of view, the wrong opening, the wrong tone ... I can make myself crazy trying to figure out whether I’m making the best choices.”
Moriarty may be making herself crazy, but she’s clearly a hit with readers. As Roberta Rubin of the Book Stall in Winnetka, Ill., notes, “While Moriarty’s writing reminds me of Ann Patchett, Louise Erdrich and Joyce Carol Oates, her voice is unique and cuts to the quick. I loved this book from the first page to the last.”
Laura Moriarty will read from and sign The Rest of Her Life at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. For details, call 344-8139.