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"But Now Am Found"
Winner of the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, 2011
Selected by Andre Dubus III
What inspired you to write “But Now Am Found”?
The story arose from something a colleague told me. In high school he’d dated a girl who wore a brace like the one in my story. They were together for a couple of years and then one day she told him she couldn’t see him anymore because, as a Christian fundamentalist, she’d been saved, whereas he, a Jew, was “damned.” That attitude of moral certitude fascinates me because I really don’t understand it, yet it’s so prevalent. All one need do is pick up a paper or turn on the TV. And I’m inspired to write about what I don’t understand, things I’m trying to come to grips with.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
Well, time chiefly, finding blocks of concentrated time in which to write. I say “concentrated time” because focus can be another challenge. There comes a point where I’m deep inside a story or essay and nothing can distract me, but I can also be easily distracted, alas.
Do you structure your writing before you write, or do you begin by writing freely?
Usually I have an idea of where I’m going, but I try to be open to whatever might happen. Sometimes stories will resist where you think you want to take them. It’s good to heed that resistance.
Are there instances in your writing to which you did not intend to give thematic or symbolic meaning, but which you became aware of after writing them?
Certainly. It’s one of the joys of writing—when you discover that an image has taken on symbolic meaning from within the story—the boy’s eyeglasses in “But Now Am Found,” for instance. As a much younger writer I would try to superimpose symbols on my story, rather than letting them arise organically from within the piece. You have to learn to have patience and faith that the symbols will emerge rather than trying to shoehorn them in.
The image of the brace is so vivid that it seems as though both of the characters are wearing it, and furthermore, it is the brace that prompts the biggest event of the story. When writing this story, did you know that the brace was going to weigh so heavily on the characters and the action?
I wore a brace like that as a teenager, and I’ve written nonfiction about it, so I didn’t really have to make an imaginative leap in describing it. And, yes, I’m aware of what great potential it has metaphorically—how it comes between the characters in so many ways. They’re weighted down by her disability, her religiosity, his diffidence, by her parents’ narrow-mindedness. At the story’s end, she rejects the brace but has embraced a different kind of weight—that of moral superiority and hypocrisy.
Reading this story, it is difficult to know when it takes place. It could be the 1950s; it could be the present day. Was this something you intended while writing the story?
I think I was flashing back to my own childhood. Some of those rites of suburban adolescence are still with us—making out in cars, guys doing donuts, kids hanging out at the movies or carnivals. At least I think so. I like the timelessness of that. The only “clue” may be that there are no cell phones or computers in this story. If there were, it might have been more difficult for the girl’s parents to keep her in isolation.
What writers are you influenced by in general? Were there any writers who specifically influenced “But Now Am Found”?
Oh…so many, generally. Grace Paley is a gigantic influence. Christine Schutt, Amy Hempel, Vladimir Nabokov, the incomparable Virginia Woolf. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway.
What are you currently reading?
I recently finished Andre Dubus III’s new memoir, Townie, and I was really struck by the tension between the violence depicted and the restraint of the voice. Just now I’ve begun reading Mark Richard’s story collection, Charity. I got it at The Strand and marking the place for his story “The Birds for Christmas” was a ticket stub for a band named Morbid Angel. That felt appropriate somehow.