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Q&A with

 Alice HAtcher

Interviewed by Bekah Lazar

Alice Hatcher is the author of The Wonder That Was Ours (Dzanc, 2018), long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Award. Hatcher’s fiction has appeared in journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, The Masters Review, and Post Road. Hatcher teaches at the Tucson branch of the Writers Studio.

Q: In a world where violence has become commonplace, you’ve created something bittersweetly soft. What inspired you to write this story about a unique type of grief, and why did you choose this theme and setting in particular? What was the process of writing it like?


I very loosely based the story “Caesura” on something from my own life. When I was 17, someone profoundly affected by mental illness tried to commit suicide by driving her car into a line of trees, while I was in the passenger seat. It took me years to fully recover from the resulting crash and just as long to get over the fact that the only explanation offered by the driver was that “God had told her it was time for us to die.” The story “Caesura” is about the survivor of a mass suicide bombing, who wakes up in a hospital to discover that one of bombers—whose device failed to detonate—is recovering in the ward directly beneath her own. In the story, the two survivors encounter each other in the hospital, recognize that both of their lives have been destroyed by a war, and try against all odds to recognize each other’s humanity. I wrote the story partly as a way to examine, with the hindsight of years, my own path to recovery, and to explore the possibility of forgiveness, which is especially difficult when one is haunted by enduring memories. 


In the story, the two women are both amnesiacs, which forces them to try to recreate their individual and shared histories together, with fragments of what each knows. Forgetting becomes the only salve for their injuries. Of course, forgetting is not a solution, and this is the conundrum the story explores. Forgetting is a form of bypass, and not a viable form if one is part of a group that has been subjected to historical erasure. As for the setting, I left it entirely unspecified, since the story is not about any single place. The grief in the story is less unique than profound. It’s the sort of grief a person carries when they experience such a rupture or trauma that they end up seeing their life in terms of a “before” and “after.” In “Caesura,” the main character is trying to piece together memories of the “before” so that she can make sense of the “after,” only to realize that any recollection of the past stokes a hatred that makes any empathy for her assailant nearly impossible. That’s the tragedy in the story. The process of writing “Caesura” was painful from a personal standpoint and grueling from a craft standpoint, since I was writing about a character with a very limited memory and a very unstable sense of identity. 


Q: The language you use throughout the piece is deftly beautiful. I know you’re a poet as well, which can offer some explanation as to why you’re so intentional and controlled with your words. How have you learned to blend your poetic language into your fictive prose, and how did this piece give you agency to do that?


Thank you for your kind words. I dabble in poetry but haven’t studied it as much as I would like, though I would love to experiment more with it. As far as the intentionality and control over the language, I think I was trying to write in a somewhat matter-of-fact and direct way to offset the horror of the situation recounted in the story. Using a matter-of-fact tone can sometimes allow a writer to explore somewhat disturbing or emotionally charged material without overwhelming readers. Writing “Caesura,” I kept the writing subdued and hoped emotion would emerge from the subject matter. I shaded into lyrical writing at times to signal moments of transcendence or human connection. 


Q: Your characters in Caesura suffer from a deep loss of identity both physically and mentally in such a deeply heartbreaking manner, and you’ve chosen to tackle this topic through the lens of explicitly women. What made you select this specific lens of exploration? Why did you opt for female relationships to navigate this narrative as opposed to other genders?


I love the fact that you’ve asked this question, because it confounds expectations. More than a few times, I’ve been asked why I occasionally write from a male perspective. I’ve often found myself trying to explain why I feel gender-fluid in my writing and talking about the myriad of so-called “male” and “female” experiences that exist in that place of overlap in the Venn diagram. I featured women as the main characters of “Caesura” simply because the story was distantly autobiographical. I didn’t even think about it, though I usually think long and hard about whether a man, woman, or a nonbinary person should tell a particular story. It’s possible that my choice to foreground the experience of women in “Caesura” worked almost by accident, because there is so much physical and, in the end, emotional intimacy between the two characters. It’s sad to say, but the same readers who might doubt that two men could stroke each other’s faces and make themselves vulnerable to each other in a platonic encounter could probably read about two women showing each other compassion and engaging in non-sexual touch without blinking an eye. I’m obviously referencing stereotypes—ones that I don’t think hold up to scrutiny, but which might have shaped the way readers encountered the story. It might be an interesting exercise to write a similar story about differently gendered characters.


Q: You muddle the points of view in this work, using both “you” and “I" in a purposeful use of distance and viewpoints. We as readers are just as disoriented as the narrator as we navigate this unsure world with her, splitting her perception yet simultaneously keeping it uniform. What was the purpose behind using multiple-yet-separate perspectives, and what was it like implementing that?


Again, it was tough to write two characters whose identities are so unstable because they can no longer draw upon memories to orient themselves in the world and, specifically, to one another. Because so many patients in my fictional hospital have been disfigured, mirrors are forbidden, so my two women characters end up relying on each other, not only to reconstruct their histories with fragmented memories, but also to gain a sense of how their surgically reconstructed faces appear. Through their descriptions, they serve as mirrors for each other. As a result of their mirroring, the distinction between the women blurs, to the point that pronouns seem vague at times. The instability of identity creates possibilities for rebirth, even as the women grieve lives they entirely lost and might never remember or recover. Capturing the porous boundaries in the women’s identities involved editing with a fine-tooth comb. I ended up accepting that there was going to be some ambiguity in the story, since the two women, stripped of their histories, social trappings, and even faces, can barely tell themselves apart. In the end, that ambiguity speaks to the heart of the story. 

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