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Leslie Pietrzyk | An Interview with the Author of “Silver Girl”
I was deep in a reading slump when I came across “Silver Girl”. I was browsing the shelves at Skylight Books in Silverlake (Los Angeles) when this cover jumped out to me. I had never heard of this story or the author, but I gave it a chance and am so grateful that I did. The story is set against 1980s Chicago, where we follow an obscure young woman starting her first year of college. She meets Jess on the first day, and we are thrust into a deeply-rooted friendship of love, jealousy, and secrets. I finished it in one sitting, and as soon as I read the last page, I ran to my computer with tears in my eyes. I had to talk about it. I had to talk to Leslie Pietrzyk about it. She was so gracious to take the time to answer my questions even with her busy schedule! I am so excited to share our chat.
Why do you think friendships between women, particularly young women, are so special? What made you want to write about sisterhood and friendship? Are parts of this friendship or story autobiographical?
When I was in college, I had a complicated female friendship that ended sadly/badly for me, many years later. (She was NOT Jess as portrayed in SILVER GIRL! Nor am I the narrator!) Even though she and I are no longer friends, her friendship at that time was deeply important to me and life-changing in a variety of ways…and perhaps many of those ways are unique to that age and transitory space, those years of college when so many people are free from their homes, families, and — perhaps — dark or complicated pasts, suddenly able to try on new identities. I spent some time playing around with these two girls in character sketches before launching into the book, and what attracted me to continuing on and writing about their friendship was the power dynamic between them. It was fascinating to ponder how power shifts between them, how their defined roles are both spoken and unspoken. I also thought it was interesting to create a friendship where there are deep betrayals, yet also there is deep love — how contradictory emotions can reside side by side. Exploring the complexity of female relationships is one of my ongoing writing goals, and this book was my deepest dive into what fascinates me most: women and their lives.
The detail of our main character remaining nameless throughout the story was so subtle and beautiful. Was that a choice you made at the beginning of your writing process, or did you initially give her a name? Why did you want her to remain anonymous to the reader?
I’m glad that element worked for you because I understood I risked readers’ annoyance at that omission. I often try not to lock onto a character name until I find the perfect one, because I find it hard to swap out names later in the process. Because she’s a first-person narrator, and because this uncertainty is part of my process, I didn’t worry that a name wasn’t coming…and finally I realized that no name would come, that this narrator wasn’t going to reveal that piece of information to the reader. I had to figure out why, why she was making that choice, and what that choice meant for the book. Otherwise, a nameless narrator is just a writerly gimmick. So, I thought about some other books I admire that contain a nameless narrator and the deeper purpose behind the author’s decision, e.g. “Invisible Man and Bright Lights, Big City”. This thinking led me deeper into the narrator’s past experiences, and ultimately, I realized that for her, keeping that bit of identity to herself was an act of perceived power on her part. That maybe the reader closes the pages imagining they know everything, and yet there’s that most basic omission: a name.
The Tylenol Killer really fascinated me and got me to do a little bit more research on the crime. Why did you choose that crime in particular to weave into the story?
The idea of random violence that cuts across class and community captivated me, the horrible realization that absolutely anyone could be a victim simply by having purchased the wrong bottle of poisoned Tylenol off the drugstore shelf. I was hoping to create some tension in the book with this randomness as a backdrop to the narrator’s quest to understand why she is the way she is, how, and where “the beginning” was of the bad decision she’s made, the bad events that shaped her. And, of course, the fact that no one was ever convicted of this crime is horrifying to contemplate. What rich fictional material: did someone get away with the perfect crime? What other unpunished crimes do people get away with?
The story was left open ended, with the reader having to think about where these two girls’ lives will take them. Such intense, magical, tumultuous, friendships like this one are so often fleeting, and there are a lot of things left unsaid. Do you think these two girls could ever be friends again, or do you think that their friendship was just a glimmer in their lives?
I love that you’re thinking of their lives onward…I’ll confess that these are the first characters I’ve missed desperately after finishing the book. I find myself wondering about these two, and also the others, especially Grace and Penny. (I like imagining they somehow cross paths. Maybe there will be a short story somewhere down the road??) As the author, I have no more authority about what happens after the book ends than any reader, so these are just my personal speculations here: I don’t think Jess and the narrator could ever be friends again. I’m not even sure that Jess would accept the narrator’s friend request on Facebook. But I’m certain that each internet-stalks the other on those odd, late nights of insomnia, not out of meanness, but just to know what the other has been up to. Is that needing to know a power thing? Or is it a sign of how deeply they affected each other during an important time, how vital that friendship once was and how even as they’re apart, their connection continues to ripple still? Or is that simply the narrator’s deepest, most secret yearning — hoping that Jess still thinks of her? That part of Jess loves her, even after all of it?
Thank you so much to Leslie Pietrzyk for indulging me and my love for “Silver Girl”.
Follow Leslie: http://www.lesliepietrzyk.com/