Rachel DeWoskin is the author of the new novel Banshee. Her other books include Someday We Will Fly and Big Girl Small, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. She teaches at the University of Chicago.
Q: In our previous Q&A, you said of this novel, “I guess I gave myself an assignment--could I create a villainous character who’s still compelling enough that we want to follow her story?” How did you come up with Samantha?
A: I was curious about what it might look and feel like for a polite pleaser to shed expectations until she became absolutely wild. She’s not exactly “likable” (a word I find boring and point-missing in conversations about fiction), but more than making her a bad hero or good villain, I really wanted her to be an expression of the intersections in so many of us between fear and rage.
Powerlessness can be both infuriating and inspiring, and when Samantha Baxter experiences a jolt of mortal fear she decides to let it ignite what’s most furious and selfish in her. It was fun to write someone coming unmoored, to get to imagine behaviors I wouldn’t indulge in, and work to make them - or her motivations anyway - understandable.
Q: How was the novel’s title chosen?
A: This is funny. My daughters are still pretty little, and they are not allowed to read this novel until they’ve retired (so in their 70s, I’m thinking), but my husband and I were talking about titles one day as we drove across California with the girls (who were reading and listening to music in the backseat).
Mythology and righteous female anger and things of that sort came up in our chat, and suddenly our littlest one, 10 at the time, said from behind us, “How about Banshee?” Because she loves and knows all the myths and because kids are always listening, even when we think they’re not (obviously – how I’d let this slip my mind is anyone’s guess).
And I was like – “That’s the most perfect title I’ve ever heard and can I use it even though you’re never allowed to read the book?” And she said yes. So my wildly inappropriate book got its brilliant title from my 10-year old.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “The narration of this book is so engaging and powerful and the confusion and despair Samantha experiences so visceral and terrifying, reading it feels like being dragged along by the hand by one’s braver best friend through a scary fun house.” What do you think of that assessment?
A: Ha! I love that assessment, of course, was thrilled by that review and giddy to the "the braver best friend," although I don't/can't (?) really lead anyone out of life's most terrifying fun houses. In a sense, writing this novel was like wearing a spelunking light, panicking my way through some horrifying darknesses and hoping for others willing to come with me.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I don’t know if there’s really a message. Mostly when I write, I have questions, instead of answers. But I guess one possible point I wouldn’t mind making is that women’s POVs are important by default. That what we feel (even if fear and rage) and what we wonder matter enough to fuel not just a novel, but also hopefully action (toward a more socially just world).
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on adapting Banshee into a film with Ally Sheedy, which is tremendous fun. And my next book is a poetry collection, coming out with the University of Chicago Press in April 2020, so I’m polishing my poems one final time before the page proofs arrive.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Banshee tour has contained some of the most exuberant and delicious conversations I’ve ever had on book tour, and I have one more event, in my beloved hometown of Ann Arbor, at Literati Book store on Sept. 9 at 7.
Thank you for having me back!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rachel DeWoskin.