By Leslie Lindsay
~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~
Always with a Book
Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with Naomi Krupitsky
Naomi Krupitsky is an author, editor, and bookseller. THE FAMILY is her instant-New York Times bestselling fiction.
The Instant New York Times bestseller
A TODAY Show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
ABOUT THE FAMILY:
A captivating debut novel about the tangled fates of two best friends and daughters of the Italian mafia, and a coming-of-age story of twentieth-century Brooklyn itself.
Two daughters. Two families. One inescapable fate.
Sofia Colicchio is a free spirit, loud and untamed. Antonia Russo is thoughtful, ever observing the world around her. Best friends since birth, they live in the shadow of their fathers’ unspoken community: the Family. Sunday dinners gather them each week to feast, discuss business, and renew the intoxicating bond borne of blood and love. But the disappearance of Antonia’s father drives a whisper-thin wedge between the girls as they grow into women, wives, mothers, and leaders. Their hearts expand in tandem with Red Hook and Brooklyn around them, as they push against the boundaries of society’s expectations and fight to preserve their complex but life-sustaining friendship. One fateful night their loyalty to each other and the Family will be tested. Only one of them can pull the trigger before it’s too late.
I absolutely loved this book. I mean, I cannot rave enough. It’s gorgeously told, with emotional resonance and builds emotional residue. In fact, you might feel a little in awe–maybe a teeny bit jealous–in how you might create a work as impactful as this one. But seriously, it’s just darn good.
Please join me in conversation with the lovely and talented Naomi Krupitsky:
I always want to know the inspirations, the seeds of a story. What–or who–was haunting you as you wrote THE FAMILY?
Sofia and Antonia came to me first. I got the image of this polar-opposite friendship, two little girls who grow up in adjoining apartments, who complement and contrast with each other. As they came into focus, the world around them grew also.
As I started to structure and think about that bigger world, I drew on mythology and legends and fairytales, which I have always loved. I like thinking about the stories we tell over and over, the things we pass down, the stories we inherit from the culture around us. I’ve always loved retellings of myths. I like to see what gets left behind or shifted in a modern retelling, and what new things can be revealed about a story we all already know. I engaged with a lot of myths and legends to construct the world of this book. There is the myth of New York, which I was really familiar with because I grew up on the West Coast but spent as much time as I could reading fiction set in New York City. I fell in love with the city first because of the myths about it. I moved there because of them. I believe in their power.
This is also an immigrant story, a love story, a parenting story. And then the Mafia, I think, operates in our collective consciousness the way a myth does. There are things everyone knows about the Mafia—but they don’t know how they know. There is something about that combination of violence and honor and love and integrity that is compelling, that resonates really broadly. Once I began drawing on the rich well of mythology and the canon of work about New York and about the Mafia, I couldn’t stop.
With any art form, I think our ideas of how it will turn out are actually very different from the reality. Was this true for you? How does the finished novel compare to the novel you originally intended to write?
This is my first novel, so if I am being entirely candid, I didn’t intend to write it at all. I spent the first two years wondering if it even was a novel, if it still existed when I closed my computer. I can still feel the wilderness of not knowing, and it still amazes me that I wrote my way through it.
But the whole time I was writing, I knew I wanted action and emotions to coexist on the page.
I think fiction is often either driven by the characters or by the plot.
But I wanted a book so exciting that readers of more emotionally driven fiction feel like it is a guilty pleasure; I wanted a book with such carefully articulated characters that readers of classic action and adventure fiction surprised themselves by loving these people. I wanted to write something that refused to sacrifice either suspense or emotional depth.
Editing this book was a long and intense process. The most salient thing I learned was how to not just express both action and emotion but connect them. The emotions in the final draft are what drive the action. The action feels like a culmination of the emotional arcs.
These two story elements do not just coexist; they are symbiotic.
Learning how to use plot and character as interconnected building blocks has changed me as a writer.
The crux of this story lies in the symbiotic, life-sustaining relationship between Antonia and Sofia. Why is this relationship so unique, and why do you think female friendships like theirs are having a literary moment?
I’m interested in the idea of something being unique in fiction. I think the things that resonate widely in fiction are often not unique, but rather universal. Love—how Sofia and Antonia are born into it, how they build it, and how they alternately choose it and avoid it—is as universal as it gets. And friendship is a special kind of love. Sofia and Antonia love each other differently than sisters and differently than lovers. The bounds and boundlessness of their relationship was endlessly fascinating for me. I think anyone who has had a best friend and anyone who has wanted one will find something to connect with in Sofia and Antonia’s friendship.
My suspicion is that female friendship is having a moment in fiction for two reasons. First, women are having a moment in fiction! Women are being published at very high rates; women are writing about things that interest them, and it’s changing what gets focused on in the general fiction landscape. I work as a bookseller, and our fiction shelves are full of multiple generations of women navigating challenges together; of women who are forging into the unknown alone; of teenage girls being the heroines of their own stories rather than the props in other people’s stories. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come; hopefully someday soon, the fiction that is published will reflect the stunning diversity of the world we live in.
Second, I think love is more freely defined, and perhaps more important, in today’s world than it ever has been. Relationships can be, and have to be, intentional, and individually constructed, because there are fewer restrictions on who can relate and how (not, of course, none—and the ways Sofia and Antonia both feel constrained by the outside limits placed on them will probably be relatable to many readers, too). In this contemporary moment, love is revealed in complex glory. And friendship, which is its own kind of love but which can contain the best and the worst of both romantic love and family love, is such fertile ground for exploration.
The Family is a novel defined by duality—not just in the context of Sofia and Antonia’s relationship, but also in the tenuous lines separating good from evil, old world from new world, and love from violence. What did you wish to accomplish by exposing these dichotomies?
When I studied classics and mythology, I remember learning that the Greeks were special because their gods were flawed—selfish and greedy, violent, motivated by insecurity. The stories passed down about Greek gods enabled people to explore moral boundaries, to see their gods acting out the worst human impulses. That really stuck with me. In my own life, fiction has always been a way I could test my boundaries, complicate my instincts, and explore outside my own perspective. And as much as possible, I hope The Family lives in the gray areas between what we normally see as black-and-white dichotomies.
For example, I want the reader to love Joey. I also want the reader to see him being violent and selfish and making the wrong decisions. Later in the book, I want the reader to empathize with Saul, even as he betrays people he loves—people the reader loves, too. I want the reader to see Sofia being cruel, to see Antonia being cowardly, and still to love them, wholeheartedly, absolutely. I want the reader to see Sofia and Antonia trying to escape the restrictions of the world they were born into, even as each of them, in different ways, realizes that her strength comes from her roots.
When I read, I am more invested in complex characters who are capable of violence than I am in characters who stick to one side of the line between right and wrong.
And from a creative standpoint, the blurry center where good and evil, old and new, love and violence come together, and are sustained and in some ways enabled by one another, is the most interesting place to explore.
Antonia and Sofia are opposite in almost every way. As you were writing, did you relate more to Antonia’s or Sofia’s character? Where did you pull inspiration for their unique personalities?
I think Antonia and Sofia’s contrasting personalities embody a duality I feel in myself. For example, I have Sofia’s temper but Antonia’s self-awareness. This has gotten me into trouble at times, but it’s also kept me safe and strong. I can be timid, but I can also be bold. I think in many ways I used their personalities to explore the wide range of self I feel, and I wanted to explore how each of their traits can be a gift or a curse, depending on the situation. As I wrote, I used each of them as a foil for the other: if this is how Antonia navigates falling in love, or anger, or massive change, how does Sofia navigate it, and how can those two personalities be in conversation with each other? But I see myself in both of them, and I feel really connected to both of them.
You had to have done a ton of research to to create such a vivid, panoramic portrait of Brooklyn. Can you talk about that, please?
I did have to do quite a bit of research, but I was so grateful to be writing this book in the time of the internet! Without even leaving my living room, I could look at a map of the subway system in 1930. I could see a block in Brooklyn in 1938 and see that same block in 1940. I read about neighborhood demographics and how they changed over time. I even found Facebook groups where Sicilian Americans discussed how their specific grandmothers made specific dishes.
I will also say that any tangible, lifelike sense of Brooklyn or New York that I was able to create came from fiction. I’ve been an avid reader of New York–specific fiction for all of my life. Fiction felt like the truest form of research for me—reading fiction in order to write fiction; situating myself in the world I wanted to contribute to.
One of the most complex characters in the narrative is Saul, a Jewish man who arrives in Brooklyn after fleeing Nazi Germany. How did you come to this character? In what ways does he represent the cultural dissonance of this time period?
I have family who migrated from Europe to Brooklyn during that time, for the same reasons Saul does. I wanted to include that history, and I wanted Sofia to fall in love with someone who surprised her, who came from outside the world she lived in. The better I got to know Sofia, the more necessary Saul became: there is no way she would fall for someone she understood. But while Saul entered the narrative as a secondary character, he really evolved into a central one. Without giving away too much, Saul makes everyone in the Family question their own motivations for the life they have chosen. He is a destabilizing force, and his presence complicates the values of honesty, loyalty, and community that the rest of the characters hold dear.
Did you have a favorite scene in the novel, and why?
I have always loved to write grief and fear and sadness. The richness of those emotions, the complexity of them, and the way they make a familiar world feel strange has always attracted me.
I have struggled to find that same richness when writing happiness, love, and satisfaction. But in this book, I loved writing Saul and Sofia’s courtship. It took a long time for me to figure out what their unique relationship would feel like, and what they needed from each other, and what they find in each other that satisfies and surprises them. And it satisfied and surprised me, too, to land on Saul and Sofia’s particular love, to figure out how each of them would feel desire, and to spend time making that clear on the page.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
First, I hope this is just an incredibly pleasurable reading experience. I hope it is immersive and rich, the kind of story you think about while you’re not reading, the kind of story you are sad to finish.
Second, the fiction I love takes me out of my own perspective. It gives me access to worlds that I know nothing about. And yet it builds bridges between my world and its own; it reveals surprising commonalities. It is my greatest wish that, while reading this story about another time and place, people might look to a scene or a character or a single sentence and think, I feel that. I think of that warm relief that comes when you read a sentence that articulates something you’ve always felt but never understood in words: There it is. There I am. Here I am.
I think we’re all dying to know: what’s next for you? No pressure. : )
I worked on this book for a long time, and I am still coming to terms with being finished—I’m relieved and excited, but I’ve spent so long in Sofia and Antonia’s world that it’s hard to imagine being as immersed in something new. I’m going to spend the next months reading and thinking and exploring and just seeing what I connect to, and I am really excited to use everything I’ve learned writing The Family for whatever comes next.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH NAOMI KRUPITSKY, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE FAMILY, PLEASE VISIT:
- Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
- This title may also be available through other online sellers.
A PERFECT PAIRING:
We’ll chat about REAL ESTATE by Deborah Levy and also Sandra Cisneros’s A HOUSE OF MY OWN on the next #memoirmonday as we round out November.
Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 Bookshop.org.
See featured October 2021 titles HERE.
Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.
In the meantime, you can catch me on:
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook|Always with a Book, Facebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org
If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Naomi Krupitsky is an author, editor, and bookseller.
She was born in Berkeley, California, and attended NYU’s Gallatin school of Individualized Study, where she graduated in 2012. She lives in San Francisco, but calls many places home. The Family is her first novel.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.