A Bit Contrived
features interviews with authors who exist about books that don't, with covers designed by people who do.
Please note: & Yet & Yet & Yet does not exist, nor will it ever (probably)—it's been improvised during the course of the interview. If you really want to read it, do yourself a favor and check out Victoria's debut, I Have To Tell You.
Release no. VI:
& Yet & Yet & Yet by Victoria Hetherington
I met Tory in her hometown of Toronto, at a café she described to me in written correspondence as “faintworthy”. When I arrived, she was high. Her drug of choice? The emotional texture of being. I’d long suspected that Tory could tap into some hidden dimension of human sorrow; when I first glimpsed her, I began to think it wasn’t just humans she understood. She was brushing the petals of a decorative begonia, making babytalk to it, giggling softly, nodding. After I had a macchiato I finally approached her, and we began our conversation. Below are some excerpts.
Tory, I've just finished my advanced review copy of & Yet & Yet & Yet. First of all, thank you for speaking to me, but more importantly, thank you for having the emotional intelligence of some poetic god, and putting that eIQ to work under the pretense of fiction. In your past work, I Have To Tell You, you took apart and reassembled the friendship of twenty-somethings. In &Y&Y&Y (I hope you don't mind that diminutive), I felt as though you took apart and reassembled me—of course the book has nothing to do with me; I imagine every reader will have the same impression. I know the critics did: Wai Bethel in BOMB said, "it was as if before I read it, my emotions worked under the primary colors. Now, I feel in magenta, in a summer teal, in colors only the Greeks saw [sic]". The Washington Post's Dick Selby remarked quite succinctly, "I thought I could feel. I was wrong. Now I can feel. Now I can." I must know: did you know what you were writing when you wrote it? I imagine something this obliteratingly heartfelt must have come from an obsession of the material or a sort of blackout withdrawal from it.
Wow, Andrew – first of all, thank you. Since I was a kid, the most insignificant moment could bring me to tears: the tick of a Timex, the slow unravel of a friendship bracelet. Even as a solemn, fat eight-year-old, weirding out all the other eight-year-olds who just wanted to talk about Pokemon or subtly examine the shape of my tits under my GAP sweater, I was isolated by the kind of hyper-sentimentality you'd only really see in the eighteen-hundreds – you know: the poet collapsing on his fainting couch at the sight of a flower, the composer found flattened in a field, wracked with ecstasy, kind of thing. And with this book I finally submitted to that gaping realm of feeling, molten and formless, that shameful part of me that feels and feels and feels – I put it to work, I put it to use. And I'm glad, I'm touched, that for some people, it works.
I'm thrilled someone finally has the gall to bring to light the darkest secret of poetry: fainting couches. Without them, we'd have no poetry (and how could we, with all of our greatest concussed?). I must know about yours. Is it plush? How do you faint? Like, is your hand on your forehead, or...?
It's heroic you even set aside words for the sake of plot, given how heart-wrenching your descriptors are. On the surface, we have a fairly standard heterosexual love story (but of course that’s a big fat red herring). What books helped inspire the plot?
Thank you for sharing, Andrew. Personally, I can't sleep unless I've got someone lying beside me watching me – and failing that, a webcam trained on my face. And failing that, I leave my bedroom window open, and dot some peanut butter on the sill, you know?
Ah yes, I love Basquiat! His paintings are just exquisite, aren't they? I know I've mentioned poets and composers of the eighteenth century, but the painters were certainly something, too.
I appreciate that you weren't anthropocentric in relating to the relationship, and I'm sure Bobby and Mrs. Fluff would appreciate it, too. And wow, thank you – I actually wasn't sure that scene would work! It was so tough to create because it's almost too universal, you know? We've all been there. For that scene especially, and for most of the book, I did a lot of walking through neighborhoods, watching people and their dogs. One time a golden retriever revived me by licking my face, and god – it was like I was eight years old again.
I admit that when I picked up the book I was nervous because you're Canadian and didn't know if I would really relate to anything in it—or really understand what was happening. But alas, I couldn't wait for the translated version and dove in. My reading was aided by 1) little stickies I put over all mentions of "Tim Hortons" that said "Dunkin Donuts", and 2) scenes so universal that even the national divide couldn't keep me from feeling their ubiquity, vis-a-vis the minister sermonizing on bestiality in a public forum.
But that term bestiality is a bit gauche, isn't it? It is anthropocentric, as you say. The love between a man and a dog is just different—different from that of a woman and a canary, or two canaries, or a shuffleboard pod and my mailman. You're more political here than in your other writing—a bit sharper. What change do you envision &Y&Y&Y bringing about?
Merci beacoup, Andrew – and I say that on behalf of all Canadian writers. I'm very reflexively a Canadian writer, and so this book was a real departure. I'm proud to say I took some big risks here, from situating the story in a harsh, rural setting, to staging the plot alongside an endless prairie winter, to the abundant household metaphors for unraveling marriages (the rusted-up tractor that once ripped its way through the canola fields, themselves stubbornly barren, etc.) Even so, I imagine there are still some huge cultural barriers both in terms of language and content, and so I'm glad you delved into the book with all the necessary tools.
I confess I was very nervous about writing something so political. Who wouldn't be? But as a woman writer deeply invested in feelings and domesticity, and much less interested in plot and ideas, I'm fairly confident this book will make a splash, without much effort on my part. I mean the literary world is fickle, and I like to think I'm a cautious person, but still, this one's pretty much a cinch, right?
Oh, it's a very splashy book, for sure. (Also I definitely got the tractor metaphor, it was once useful and strong, like their love. Now it's not, also like they're love. Lot of resonance there.)
You as a woman and a writer. Let's take the diaper off that baby, as they say. It's no secret virtually all the "ideas" books are written by men. And yet, and yet and yet, you've got some ideas in here. What gives?
Man, that's a fascinating question – and rolled up in a compliment, no less! Obrigado, Andrew!
On one hand, I'd like to say this novel – this stubborn knot of angry and yes, highly political ideas – spoke in little voices in my bones, rose wildly inside of me like sap, and came out because it had to, I wrote it because I had to.
On the other hand, I'd say that creating this book was a pastime between setting up believable and very public fainting scenarios, communing with an old GAP sweater I recently discovered under my mattress, and setting up my sleep webcam. Just another way to pass the time until I, you know, succumb to Instagram. And the Timex goes, tick-tock.
Ah. I figured it might be one of those Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf situations, just sort of a way to move the day in between chores, the courting process and public displays of lost consciousness.
The end of the novel is predictable to say the least. Like, almost too predictable. Did you have alternate endings, or was it always so painfully obvious what the finale would be?
I appreciate your honesty, Andrew, and I think you’re right. Mrs. Fluff’s final sacrifice might have been shocking – splashy as you say – if I wrote this book fifteen years ago, but it’s a little rote when you consider how many AI storylines we’re seeing these days.
Since this is a safe space, I'll share that you’re right about the ending: in fact, my slapdash alternate ending became the real ending. I had to rewrite the entire second half of the book when I finally got around to watching the final 100 minutes of Marley and Me. God, I was just devastated, but que sera sera, right?
I regrouped and wrote the new ending with glowsticks at a Rick Ross concert – one trippy letter at a time – so I can see why it might not...fit tonally, I guess, with the rest of the book. I may also have been high on Adderall.
Ooh, writing high on Adderall. How very alt lit of you. I didn't know they had that up in Toronto. We're nearly out of time, but before I let you go: you're a very mindful, critical person. What would you have done differently if you could write it all over again?
Oh, do they ever have it up here [to any alt-litters looking to spend a jittery weekend up in Toronto: hit me up! I'll let you operate my sleep-cam!]
Jeez, I think about that every day: how would I change the book, if I had the chance? What would I do differently? I have a stack of copies sitting on my desk right now, all unopened, their covers sort of glowering at me. Seventeen Bobbys, seventeen Mrs. Fluffs. So far I've refused to sign any copies, because I'm afraid of opening the book, flipping past the first few pages, and thinking about everything I could change. The editing process never ends, right? Probably I'd change the whole thing.
I'd leave in the UFO abduction for sure, though. Just between you and I – this is a safe space, after all – I know that shit was gold.
I'm sure that shit was gold Tory, because you’re gold, and gold shits gold. Thank you for your words.
Cover by Donna Cheng. Donna is a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, originally from Connecticut. She has a BFA in Photography from University of Connecticut and a AAS in Graphic Design from Parsons, The New School for Design. She is currently a designer at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Macmillan.
Are you a graphic designer who wants to contribute a cover to A Bit Contrived? Get in touch: editor [at] 0s-1s [dot] com.