Okay, so I guess I’m presenting myself as somebody who’s read Anna Karenina, right? Self-presentation…No, I don’t think I’m a sufficiently evolved person to really be able to answer that question in any satisfying way, and I apologize.


ES: I’m personally in admiration that you can write about yourself and not be consumed with how you appear, but maybe I’m just vain.


SM: No! We’re all the most vain. I can’t remember the source of this quotation but my brain is telling me that it’s sort of on the Vonnegut-Salinger end of things. But, there’s this wonderful line about admission, admitting shameful things. It goes something like, “There isn’t any admission that doesn’t smack of vanity.” Because with every admission, you’re drawing a veil over a greater, more shameful admission. And I’m sure that’s probably happening all the time, while I’m composing something.


ES: Would you say that you actively seek out books about grief?


SM: Well, I wanted to read them while I was working on The Guardians, and I did come up with a short list of books about grief that I thought were particularly brilliant. The Peter Handke book that I mentioned is definitely one of them. I really liked Jamaica Kincaid’s book My Brother, I really liked Mark Doty’s book Dog Years, and I found John D’Agata’s book About a Mountain very, very intriguing. It’s really quite comforting. And, of course, the grief was for a stranger — it’s a very ambitious and difficult subject, but John is a genius, and so I think he made something really, really beautiful and really compelling out of it.