I wouldn’t say Talking to Ourselves is a story about ill people, but about the particular and invisible illness of the one who is taking care of someone who is ill.
The ability to think about and imagine other people’s lives and minds, to enter into their heads, is the beginning of empathy, of the moral imagination and sense. That is exactly what fiction does, too. I wanted to have that not only as the invisible and silent dynamo powering my book, but also to make The Lives of Others wear the morality of the novel form on its sleeve.
Ma Thanegi writes about the communality of the inmates, their industriousness, humor, and equanimity in the face of injustice. She describes the women she meets and tells their stories—with prostitutes, pickpockets, and political prisoners making up the cast. She also relates how she raised sparrows, grew herbs, and always wore red lipstick while imprisoned. Still, she’s writing in English about things the government in Myanmar has tried to keep hush-hush, and that’s a pretty significant enterprise.
I began reading Paula Bomer’s Inside Madeleine on a plane ride. I sat next to a friend and fellow writer who was working on his own story collection. He’d published a novel and poetry, but never short stories, and he felt disoriented attempting the new form. He wanted inspiration. He wanted a sense of control and…
In writing previous books I was a little more anxious about the craft police and in this book I just really didn’t care. I wanted it to be in fragments and I wanted it to be lyrical and have a lot of emotion in it and I wanted to roam around between the scenes and have these digressive, meditative moments.
Now, the buzz is drawing comparisons to Denis Johnson and, largely, Flannery O’Connor: stark, effusive, violent, seminal writers. Though after finishing Morris’s debut, I find I’m only struck to agree with this likening in its broadest possible sense, almost to a degree that their connections are contextual, and not what is drawn out of the writing.