Anna Solomon talks about her ravishing and darkly sexy The Book of V., about female friendships, Biblical Esther, the imbalance of power, the structure of writing and so much more


By Leslie Lindsay 

Bold, elegant, blisteringly raw and delicately complex reimagining of the biblical Queen Esther, interwoven with contemporary characters, about being a strong, passionate woman in a male-dominated world.

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~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

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Bold, elegant, blisteringly raw and delicately complex reimagining of the biblical Queen Esther, interwoven with contemporary characters, about being a strong, passionate woman in a male-dominated world.

I just finished THE BOOK OF V. (Henry Holt, May 2020) by Anna Solomon, and this book…oh this book! I cannot rave about it enough. I scrambled to order everything else she has ever written and am anxiously awaiting their arrival. This book made me think, it made me talk, it made me write.


“The Book of V. asks complicated questions about power, desire, and the evolution of women’s roles.”

—Real Simple, Top Picks for Every Taste


THE BOOK OF V. is highly immersive. I was immediately struck by the richness of the lives created in these characters. There’s Lily Rubenstein, a Brooklyn mom of two daughters in 2016 Brooklyn; she’s a ‘second wife,’ an ‘older mom,’ and struggling to find the balance between `Queen Esther. All of these lives are so viscerally told, so complex, bold, and ambitiously drawn, that I was in awe–of both Solomon’s breadth of knowledge, her concise, compassionate writing, her obvious research, and the elegant structure of these narratives, which parallel beautifully, through subtle metaphor and shared experiences.

THE BOOK OF V. is one of those books I could easily have devoured in 24 hours, but wanted to savor, so I read slower, studying the structure, the set-up, and these narrative arcs that shimmered in authentic detail. You might wonder how these women’s lives are going to connect–and they do–in surprising, emotional, and gratifying measures. Each of the women’s lives–Lily, Vee, and Esther–radiate and yet pull-in, heightening their individual stories into a tighter, more cohesive whole.

This is one of those books that will be lauded for years to come. It will be discussed at book clubs and with mothers and daughters and grandmothers, too. It will be spotlighted in feminist circles and publications. It’s just that good.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Anna Solomon to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Anna, I am just raving about THE BOOK OF V! So glad you could join us today; it’s an honor. Without going into too many details—or even using complete sentences—what would you say THE BOOK OF V is about?

Anna Solomon:

God, I love this! Your excitement about the book, of course, but just as importantly, that I don’t have to use complete sentences. Thank you. The book is about how women’s lives and choices and chances have and haven’t changed over time. Like, a lot of time. It’s about power, and abuse of power, and sex and desire and rage. It’s also about female friendship. Motherhood. Daughterhood. How complex it is to be human.

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand THE BOOK OF V. was, in part, inspired by the structure of THE HOURS (Michael Cunningham), but it’s different in scope and theme. Can you tell us a little more about how you manipulated structure—and also how you studied structure to craft your own narrative?

Anna Solomon:

THE HOURS was really important to me both in that it gave me courage to take on a novel weaving together very different women’s stories over very different periods of time, all of whose lives are either creating or playing out or reckoning with a book that came before (in that case MRS. DALLOWAY, in my case the BOOK OF ESTHER), and also because it showed me some tricks. I studied it for how Cunningham used gestures and objects and senses and symbols to build a coherent whole while moving the plot along in a suspenseful way. But I studied tons of other books for that, too—I mean, as I was planning and writing this book I returned to so many novels for guidance. PACHINKO. THE KNOWN WORLD. So many. I’m a very structural writer in that more than anything else I need to get a handle on the architecture of a given project before I can really dive in. A container, if you will, for the mess. So especially as I begin a new book, I’m obsessed with other writers’ structures. What shapes are they using? Where do they reveal critical information, how do they hold the reader in suspense, how do they use language to create subtextual connections, etc. I take a lot of notes.

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Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

“Engrossing, highly readable, darkly sexy… Solomon is a truth teller.”

—The New York Times Book Review


Leslie Lindsay:

The pages in THE BOOK OF V. pulse with so much power, passion, emotion, but also description and research, without being over-the-top. What can you tell us about how you went about compiling the biblical details? Being a senator’s wife in 1973?

Anna Solomon:

Thank you! The research on ancient Persia sort of surprised me, because it turns out that when you dive into what life was “really like” during the time that people think the Book of Esther might have taken place (500-200 BCE typically) most sources point you to… the Book of Esther! For centuries, up until pretty recently, it was treated as a history. And of course some people still see it as fact. For me, the lack of information gave me a lot of freedom and I really played with that time period, and with the story itself—I was also careful from the very first lines of the first Esther chapter (“The camp is as you imagine, which is not to say it is as it was…” ) to make clear that I was playing. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was attempting to create some definitive, Here’s what really went down. But I also spent a lot of time reading the text itself, and then reading the texts about the text, the commentary (often called Midrash) that’s been written over two thousand years.

As far as Watergate-era Washington, D.C. goes, I turned to historical records to some degree, and probably newspapers most importantly – the news itself, of course, but also opinion pieces and advertisements… ­­– and I found The National Enquirer from that time especially helpful as I wrote my own The National Enquirer piece, which was a lot of fun. I spoke with people who had been in D.C. during this time, operating in political circles like the ones Vivian Barr moves through. I also drew on what I absorbed during my time working as a journalist in the U.S. Capitol’s Senate TV-Radio Gallery from 2001-2003. A different time, of course, but in terms of political culture, Washington, D.C. is a place where change happens very slowly if at all, so I felt okay about extrapolating.

shallow focus photography of string lights
Photo by Dzenina Lukac on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop talking about?  It doesn’t have to be literary.

Anna Solomon:

1) Unorthodox

2) This video of Jo’Artis Ratti krumping in front of police in Los Angeles—and talking about how he helped create this form of dance, and why:

3)What those of us with school age kids will do if schools don’t reopen in the fall.

Leslie Lindsay:

Anna, this has been fabulous. I so enjoyed this and THE BOOK OF V. Thank you, thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Anna Solomon:

I love your questions. One thing I’ll add is that the power imbalances and abuses that the women in my book face are inextricable from other forms of oppression and that it will take all of us working together to upend the systems that destroy people and our planet. I think this moment in our collective history makes that unmistakably clear.

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Artistic cover image of book designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #alwaysreading for more like this.

For more information, to connect with Anna Solomon via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE BOOK OF V., please visit:

Order Links:

~BOOK CONCIERGE~

I found some similarities between THE BOOK OF V. and THE RED TENT (Anna Diamont), and Chloe Benjamin’s THE IMMORTALISTS, and Sue Monk Kidd’s THE BOOK OF LONGINGS but also the work of J. Courtney Sullivan, especially in the structure in her book, THE ENGAGEMENTS meets NAAMAH (Sarah Blake); parts of THE BOOK OF V also reminded me of Jennifer Wiener’s MRS. EVERYTHING, especially the 1970s aspect; and perhaps also the writing style of Caroline Leavitt

_U8B3589_LARGEABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Anna Solomon is the author of The Book of V., Leaving Lucy Pear, and The Little Bride and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in publications including The New York Times Magazine, One Story, Ploughshares, Slate, and more. Coeditor with Eleanor Henderson of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, Solomon was born and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

image1 (5)Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Forthcoming pieces in Semicolon Literary Journal. Photography featured on the cover of Up the Staircase Quarterly; forthcoming images in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM), and Brushfire Arts & Literary Journal later this summer. She has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #historical #women #literaryfiction #mothers #wives #alwayswithabook #biblicalfigures #womeninhistory #power #abuseofpower #femalefriendship #mothers #daughters

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo cred: Willy Somma. Artistic cover image of book designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook for more like this]

 

 

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