Claire Messud: Best Friends…For Now

Claire Messud is a novelist of social nuance, especially concerning the crushable inner lives of girls. You could say her new book The Burning Girl, is a suburban Boston version of Elena Ferrante’s Linu and Lena in 1960s Naples, or Zadie Smith’s Swing Time soul sisters in interracial London. But it would be unfair to not least acknowledge guy fixations on the same rough terrain back to Tom Sawyer: boy friendships at the brink.

For me, The Burning Girl about Cassie and Julie coming apart became my own unwritten novel from 8th grade: what happened to Ronnie, Binker and Eddie?  What was going on in our families, our secret selves at age 12?  Claire Messud’s general answer is: you’ll never know for sure, and you’ll never stop wondering. We spoke on this point and more on the Brattle Theatre stage in Harvard Square.

One of my preoccupations is the degree to which in fact we are uncertain about so much, and yet, it is a very uncomfortable thing to be. And so, we tell stories in order–in fact–to resolve and cover over our uncertainties… You have a constellation of points, and then you think, “I know. That girl who was caught giving blow jobs, I know that story; I know that girl.” Right? And we don’t ask further questions. We tell a story, and we simplify it. The story of a friendship between two girls coming unravelled, I know that story. I’ve heard that story a thousand times. But actually, you never know the story.

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