- Inter/View: Talks with America's Writing Women
The "interview"—whether in print, on the radio, or on television—seems to have achieved the status of a minor popular art form. Because only widespread general interest could account for its current omnipresence, my opinion must of necessity be a minority one. I do not much like interviews. The inherent constraints of the genre favor the quotable phrase over the genuinely explanatory paragraph, the quip over the carefully considered comment. In this regard, of course, they are not unlike many book reviews.
The virgule in the title of Inter/View may be no more than a concession to current fashion, but it seems to promise something out of the ordinary: a truly intimate inside view or a dialogical relationship among the various interviews. This promise is never really kept, however, in spite of Pearlman and Henderson's announced intention of exploring "how memory is linked to writing." In Inter/View Pearlman and Henderson claim to have created "a forum for the voices of twenty-eight people who have three levels in common: they are women, Americans, and writers." Beyond that common ground, however, the interviewers sought diversity of "race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, marital status, age, 'lifestyle,' and geography."
The underlying rationale for Inter/View seems to be Pearlman and Henderson's desire to provide an alternative to existing collections of interviews that deal disproportionately with male authors and treat "women writers" differently. In the Paris Review collections (titled Writers at Work), for example, they found "that the women were usually asked different, more stereotypically gender-defined questions, resulting in interviews that were markedly different in tone and seriousness and were often less evocative and useful." To redress this imbalance is a worthy goal indeed. Unfortunately, Pearlman and Henderson's interviews contribute almost as much to perpetuating the distortions they perceived in Writers at Work as they do to redressing them.
The Ladies Home Journal approach is pervasive and regrettable. In spite of the arguable importance of space in the writings of many, if not most, women, [End Page 275] the generous use of "stereotypically gender-defined" domestic descriptions (not to mention frequent references to clothing and personal appearance) raises serious questions of audience and intent. I would have preferred to see more of the minds of these twenty-eight interesting and accomplished women and less of their kitchens (or offices). The book is haunted by the Angel of the House.
All of which is not to say that there is not some good reading in Inter/View. The recurrent discussions of the uses of memory were often provocative and enlightening, especially the insights of Gail Godwin, Joyce Carol Thomas, and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Other highlights of the book include Alison Lurie on feminist separatism and Godwin, Marge Piercy, and Fromberg Schaeffer on book reviewers. There were also a number of near misses, moments the interviews seemed about to take off but did not. Henderson, for example, reported that Piercy "became excited when discussing the fundamental nature of fiction," which Piercy sees "as being about time and choice." But only a single paragraph of the interview was allotted to Piercy's elaboration of this statement. Pearlman's failure to encourage Fromberg Schaeffer to develop her assertion that "at this point in history, 'it seems as if there are only approved forms of suffering'" was also a keen disappointment.
Interesting as some of the interviews are, some of the time, Inter/View is finally only partially successful as a testament to "the numbers of women writing first-rate fiction in America today."