In Conversation With Kate Christensen

Trouble is a vibrant story of female friendship and midlife sexual awakening from Kate Christensen, the acclaimed author of The Great Man, winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. Kate is also the author of the novels In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure’s Lament. Her essays and articles have appeared in various publications, including Salon, Mademoiselle, The Hartford Courant, Elle, and the bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Doubleday sat down with Kate to discuss the inspiration behind Trouble.

Trouble focuses on the bonds between women and the strength of those friendships. Why did you choose to write about these themes now? Was there a personal impetus for the plot or was this something you’d considered writing about for a while?

This book came to me when I was down in Mexico City in February of 2006, finishing the final draft of The Great Man. Walking around the city, hanging out in cantinas, hearing music, going to art openings, I was struck by the idea of two long-time middle-aged female friends, both in a lot of trouble in their lives, meeting in Mexico City to offer each other moral support, escape, and a return to their lost, younger selves. I was inspired to write about their friendship because of a very painful misunderstanding I had had with my own best friend, a rift that, once healed, brought to my consciousness the fact that there are no formal codified structures for female friendship, no commitment or breakup ceremonies, no structures in place for intervention during times of crisis, such as friendship therapy. Close female friendship is a relationship that often goes as deep as, or deeper than, marriage or family, but which has no rights or rules. I wanted to write about this in a direct, visceral, emotional way.

Both New York City and Mexico City are main characters in Trouble (arguably as much as Josie, Indrani and Raquel). What do both cities represent to the women of the book? And why did you choose Mexico as your setting for Josie and Raquel’s escape?

In New York, Josie’s life is structured in certain ways: she is a wife, a therapist, a mother, a grownup. At the beginning of the novel, she recognizes that she must leave her marriage, which sets in motion a questioning of each of her other roles, to varying effects. Raquel lives in Los Angeles, city of eternal youth, celebrity culture, and life in the public eye. Mexico City is a Catholic, colonial, vast city built on Aztec ruins; it is a place of both elemental ever-present death and wild, untrammeled life. Things happen in Mexico City; both life and death are constant and powerful there. It’s a very good place to go to shake something loose, to overcome psychic stasis or paralysis.

You’re a writer who can pretty much do anything. Each one of your novels encapsulates such vivid yet contrasting people —a world-renowned painter and the women in his life; a gay man in Manhattan looking for true love; a chain-smoking misanthrope; and a secretary who imbibes too much whiskey. Yet there are underlying themes of redemption and connection in your novels. How do the ideas come into being? Is it important to you to switch gears so completely with each new novel?

It isn’t something I think much about except in the case of The Great Man, when I deliberately set out to write a third-person novel. Each of my other four novels has begun as the idea of a character, developed into a distinct narrative voice, and unfolded from there; I hear them talking, and then I allow them to start narrating their story through me. Not channeling exactly, more like taking on a persona. And yes, redemption and connection are two themes I seem to keep returning to again and again, maybe because they, or rather the inability to find them and the possibility of eventually emerging into them by undergoing various troubles and experiences, are at the root of so much of storytelling, including satire and dark comedy.

Food and the preparation of meals are integral to your books. Yet food seems to have taken a back seat to music in Trouble. Was this a conscious decision? And what’s on your iPod?

I’ve definitely been listening to a lot of music, and I’ve been playing a lot of music with musician friends, as well. But I don’t have an iPod; I only like to hear music live or through speakers. Earbuds seem to seal me off from the world and conversation. I’m no Luddite, but I get a little claustrophobic with no air between me and the music I’m listening to.

What are you working on now? Has your writing life changed since The Great Man won the PEN/Faulkner and became a national bestseller?

I’m working on a new novel called The Astral. My life has definitely changed, entirely for the better; I have more opportunities, money, and fun. No joke. That prize was a sheer blessing.

Visit Kate’s site to download a discussion guide, browse through suggested reading, and view a complete tour schedule.