Saturday, February 18, 2023

Q&A with Daisy Alpert Florin




Daisy Alpert Florin is the author of the new novel My Last Innocent Year. She lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write My Last Innocent Year, and how did you create your character Isabel Rosen?


A: I started writing My Last Innocent Year when I was in my early 40s and was becoming more aware of my age and the fact that certain periods of my life felt, in many ways, over.


The freedom and flexibility of youth seemed to have passed me by, so I started thinking back to my college years when it still felt possible to make decisions about how I wanted my life to be. The book started as almost an interrogation of my younger self, a way to understand how I got here from there.


Over time, the characters and the setting developed and I realized there was a lot I wanted to say about what it felt like to be a woman in the ‘90s, how it felt then and how it feels now. Isabel Rosen feels familiar to me but she is also very separate. I could let her make a lot of mistakes I didn’t make but might have.


Q: The author Ellie Eaton said of the novel, “My Last Innocent Year is a tightrope walk of a debut novel about womanhood, power, and privilege.” What do you think of that description, and how do you think those three themes play out in the book?


A: I love that description, especially coming from Ellie Eaton, whose book The Divines explores many of those same themes in the context of a British all-girls boarding school.


My Last Innocent Year is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story in which the main character, Isabel, is grappling with what it means to be a woman and how much power that gives her and doesn’t give her.


It’s also definitely an examination of privilege and class as it plays out on a college campus, which is one of the first places many people begin to realize what they have, and don’t have, compared to other people.


And I love her use of the word “tightrope walk,” which makes the book sound dangerous and thrilling, which I hope it is!


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 did not know how the novel would end for a long time. In fact, once I wrote the ending, more than five years after I started, the book was finished.


The core of the novel was always there–Isabel, Connelly, the setting, the time period, as well as many of the secondary characters–but the story took time to develop. What did I want to do to these characters, and how could the plot points help me tell the story I wanted to tell? That took a while. I wrote in circles for a very long time.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: One of the most important things I did was listen to a Slate podcast called “Slow Burn” about the Clinton impeachment.


I was in my mid-20s when everything went down with Clinton and Monica Lewinsky so I was definitely aware of it, but I didn’t remember the granular details. The podcast really helped me see how the story came out drip by drip during the period my book covers (January-June 1998).


I was surprised how many feminists defended Clinton at the time and believed Lewinsky had agency to consent to a sexual relationship with him. I don’t have a clear opinion on where I stand, but I think it’s interesting to see how things have changed.


Besides that, I looked at copies of People magazine and listened to a lot of ‘90s music to get me back into that time period. But because I went to college in the ‘90s, a lot of it was very fresh and accessible to me.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I am having a great time sending My Last Innocent Year out into the world. I do have another novel I am working on and am excited to find my way into that again when things settle down.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This novel, my debut, comes out just a few months before I turn 50. It doesn’t seem old to me, but our culture does have a way of fetishizing youth. All of which is to say, I couldn’t have done this a minute sooner and it’s never too late!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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