Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Frizzly Hair Girl

Today Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule, did a reading at my library.  It is sort of funny that I've never gone to see an author before, and now, within 8 days, I have seen Jonathan Safran Foer and Jaimy Gordon.  It's even more of a coincidence when you consider that JSF's wife, Nicole Krauss, was Gordon's strongest competition for the National Book Award, which Gordon won last year.

The two authors, JSF and Gordon, could not have been more different.  Both were kind, and generous with their time.  But Gordon was also very down to earth and chatty, which was great.  She probably took 3-5 minutes with every single person who was the line for her book signing.  Several of her former students were in the line and she asked each of them about their writing while meeting their spouses and children.

There were great differences in their methods of writing as well.  JSF made a point of saying (and I'm paraphrasing here) that there is no hidden meaning to his words - they mean what they say.  Gordon discussed the meaning behind the name of the horse which is the title of her book, and asked if anyone noticed how often she mentioned twins.  The twins, according to Gordon, mirror the duality of her feelings about horse racing. The sex scenes echo the training of the horses.  I think that this difference in the significance of their words may have to do with the differences in how JSF and Gordon have lived their lives.  JSF became a rock star of an author almost as soon as he graduated from college, and then later became a professor.  Gordon was a professor for decades before she attained fame as an author, and has probably spent thousands of hours leading class discussions about what authors mean by what they say in their works.

It should be no surprise to anyone who has seen Gordon, that Lord of Misrule is based on her experiences.  Gordon's picture is at the top of this post, and as you can see, she closely resembles Maggie, "the frizzly hair girl", and both are Jewish.  Both also worked with horses in low stakes horse races, and had loan sharks for uncles.  Gordon  talked about how while she worked at the track, in the late 1960s, there was a race set up like the final race in her novel.  But while Lord of Misrule has much in common with Gordon's life, it is not even close to a memoir.  Gordon created amazing characters, who were strengthened by the details which only her experience, as a race track worker, as a writer, and as a person, could provide.

Still Reading:  The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Almost Done Listening to:  Swamplandia!  by Karen Russell

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