Taylor Grieshober’s “The Easiest Thing in the World” placed 3rd in our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award. Today, we’re excited to share this brief interview with the author about her musical pairings and the writing process behind her marvelous story.
The first sentence of this story feels like a thought so many of us have had during young adulthood (or even later in life!). How did you manage to take this usually-exasperative-
Whenever I start a story, I know what the first line is—it’s the one part of the story I rarely have to revise or tinker with. My first lines are often what a professor of mine referred to as “thesis statements,” but I like to think of them as blueprints into the heart of the story that change by the end. I knew I wanted to write a story about men or more accurately, the narrator Nadine’s obsession with the men in her life and how they disappoint her. The stories I love most are ones where readers can read the first line differently or have more perspective on it by the end. By the last line, readers realize that although it appears to be about the dysfunctions and selfishness of the men, it’s really about Nadine and what she perceives as her own shortcomings. I liked the challenge of taking a sort of cliché sentiment and flipping it on its head.
What surprised me about this piece were the many successful moments of humor, sass, and painful self-awareness scattered in—elements that can often take over a piece, seem melodramatic, or stand in for the real momentum of a story. How did you balance these and keep the motor of this story running while writing or editing?
When I was drafting this, my thesis advisor Marjorie Sandor gifted me with the short story “Guy de Maupassant” by Isaac Babel and it completely knocked me out! The story follows a young french immigrant in St. Petersburg as he helps a buxom Russian woman translate the works of Guy de Maupassant. I loved the way Babel began right away with the when, where, and what—something that I had never tried because I assumed it would stall the momentum before it even began. But I was so taken by the humorous voice of the narrator, how in retrospect he could see clearly his own depravity and unrequited lust that I was willing to follow along and see where he went. As the narrator tells Raisa, the Russian translator, after he completely redoes her work, “No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place.” This meta-line spoke to me because he’s talking about style and timing, which a joke’s success depends on. Voice and humor are the easy parts for me—I tend to struggle more with plot and structure, so I spent a lot of my revisions working on balancing Nadine’s funny insights and cringey self-awareness and lack thereof with action. I gave Nadine space to explain her worldview which inevitably led to some kind of action in the present. For example, her curiosity about her subject leads her to snoop through his things. She snoops and finds something she didn’t expect to and then spends time reflecting on her discovery and eventually acting upon it and experiencing rejection. Once I realized she had to snoop and find a secret, the rest of the plot came pretty organically.
What are 5 songs you would pair with “The Easiest Thing in the World”?
- “Lilacs” by Waxahatchee
- This song is full of so many powerful contradictions. The speaker wakes up “feeling nothing” but over the course of the song, we discover she actually feels a lot, a lot of anger and creative energy. Much like Nadine’s daily routines, there’s self-reliance here but also a desire for companionship.
- “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways
- Nadine is attracted to people living on the margins, those who are sexually adventurous and daring in other regards. Because of her own hangups, living vicariously through these “weirdos” is the closest she can get to having her own provocative exploits. “Cherry Bomb” is a sexy punk rock anthem about how the girl next door is really “the fox you’ve been waiting for”.
- “Under the Table” by Fiona Apple
- This isn’t to say Nadine doesn’t rebel in her own small ways—she’s in a constant passive-aggressive war with her roommate, allowing her dogs to shit on the floor and lick Timothy’s cookware, which makes her feel empowered and vindicated. Nadine is filled with a silent simmering rage that leaks out bit by bit.
- “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Bob Dylan
- This one speaks to Nadine’s desire for a relationship that is affectionate, spontaneous, and stable all at once, something she’s clearly not going to get with her boyfriend.
- “Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him” by Betty Davis
- This song (and all of Betty’s music) is sexy, uninhibited, and funky as hell. The bravery and unapologetic desire on display here is what Nadine aspires to, but right now it isn’t within her reach. Plus Betty Davis is a Pittsburgh icon and she still lives here! She was very much on my mind when I was writing. An earlier draft featured her They Say I’m Different album cover above Blaise’s bed but it didn’t fit with his character as well as the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls poster.
Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw