Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Q&A with Mameve Medwed



Mameve Medwed is the author of the new novel Minus Me. Her other novels include Mail and How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Minus Me?


A: I’m from Bangor, Maine. I like to write about Bangor, Maine, and Cambridge. It started with the sandwich place in Bangor, the Coffee Pot. There are lines out the door for their sandwich. We craved them. After they closed the place down, I wrote an op-ed about it for The Boston Globe. I was obsessed with their sandwich.


I [thought I’d write about] a couple in Maine who wanted to open a sandwich shop. I like writing about hapless husbands, people in good marriages but mismatched in some ways. I remember writing notes to my husband when I was going away, and I thought, What if someone’s really going away?


Q: The novel takes place in a small town in Maine. How important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Bangor is a big city, 30,000 people. I had in mind a smaller town. I’m interested in small-town life, how you know everybody. In all my books, I’m interested in class, the different strata of a community, the telltale marks of class within a community. Some people can’t wait to get out of Dodge and some don’t want to leave.


Q: In our previous interview, you said that “it’s just as hard to write funny as it is to write with impressive gravitas. As Trollope said, easy reading takes hard writing. There is something lovely and satisfying about entertaining a reader and distracting someone from an illness, a hard day, tough times.” What do you see as the right balance between comedy and gravitas, especially now?


A: When I set out to write, I’m very serious, not planning on being funny, and it just comes out that way. And we all need some humor, especially now. It’s just the way I write.


I feel like this book, like all my books, has a serious theme, but always with comic overplay and a twist.


Q: How would you describe the relationship between your character Annie and Ursula, her mother?


A: Annie really resented her mother for a lot of reasons, some of which were wrong. I think she felt abandoned by her mother. She was larger than life, off being famous.


As a child, she saw a good parent and a bad parent without any gray areas. I was happy when I could get Ursula to save the day. She was a fun character to write.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I never know how it’s going to end. I write domestic comedy, so I knew it would have a happy ending.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A bunch of essays about very eccentric members of my family who are defined by objects. I’ve published a few in the Globe and The New York Times. I really love writing essays. And I have a vague idea for another novel.


Q: Anything else we should know about Minus Me?


A: It’s funny. It has sadness. I love to write about long-term marriages and families, the small domestic things that stand in for larger things like love and loss.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mameve Medwed.

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