In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributor–Dan Malakoff
Your short story “Bear No Relation” in Volume 23 involves a lot of tension simmering in the narrative. I felt so anxious watching Jane spiral! Can you tell us why you chose a political meet-and-greet cocktail party as the setting for this story?
Politics involve a lot of performance; politicians are constantly trying to create an impression. Parties can be that way, too, for many of us. The expectation is for Jane to perform for her once-friends. The stakes for her are higher since her husband is angling to work for the candidate. Jane understands these dynamics. She pushes back but can’t transcend them.
One of my favorite parts of this story is that you included a passage from The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’m curious—what made you think of this text when you were writing?
With the idea for this story, I looked to see how other writers depicted parties in their fiction. Virginia Woolf wrote a series of stories called Mrs. Dalloway’s Party. I read that and from there my mind drifted to The Hours. The themes and style of these books ended up influencing me a lot here.
This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?
I miss going to the movies, though given the setup to the question perhaps I should say something more… Let me add: Like Jane, anyone who has experienced personal tragedy understands how abruptly the rug can get pulled out from under you. I sort of feel like we’re experiencing this, or some new sense of fragility, collectively. But then life, however it reconstitutes, starts pretty quickly to feel normal again, for better or worse.
Writers tend to write what haunts or obsesses them. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing, or tend to show up a lot in your work?
Relationships that purport to be loving, that’s a big one. I’m also interested in how we come to believe what we believe about ourselves.
What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
I love the work of so many writers—Edwidge Danticat, Michael Ondaatje, Dave Eggers, Jesse Ball, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison. My teachers in Pitt’s MFA program—Allison Amend, Irina Reyn, the late Chuck Kinder—they’re angels on my shoulder while I write.
What projects are you working on right now?
During lockdown, I finished the first draft of a novel. It’s actually four, linked “detective” novellas that take place in my hometown, Pittsburgh. (The main character is a law student, then family-man lawyer, then deadbeat lawyer, then retiree/part-time notary.) Each novella takes place in a different decade.
Dan Malakoff’s short stories have appeared in Pleiades, Wigleaf, River Styx, Best Microfiction 2019, and other publications. Comet Press published his novella, Steel City Cold.
Accompanying artwork for this post is from a 2014 Spanish translation of Mrs. Dalloway by Yelena Brysenkova.