Thursday, October 23, 2014

Q & A with Anne Leigh Parrish, Author of, What is Found, What is Lost

Anne Leigh Parrish, author of, What is Found, What is Lost, has been so gracious and kind enough to agree to be featured on the blog for a short Q & A. Below are some of the questions I asked her based on my reading experience of the book and what I was curious to know. Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!

Q: What was your motivation for writing this book?

Anne Leigh Parrish: Well, first off, I really wanted to write a novel. I’d written short stories year after year, published over thirty of them, and then brought out two collections, one in 2011, and the other in 2013. I started to feel hemmed in, as if I needed more room to roam. As to subject matter, this novel really begins with Part Two, dating back to 1920. The couple presented in this section are modelled on my own grandparents, though they share only a few facts with their fictional counterparts. The rest is pure imagination on my part. You see, I formed this idea based on the fact that my mother had a menorah which she said had belonged to her mother, though her mother, who was Armenian, was raised a Catholic. My grandfather’s last name was Jacob, and he was quite Semitic in appearance, so I decided, perhaps rather whimsically, that he was actually a Jew, but wanted to hide the fact and so asked his Middle-Eastern wife to take on that role for him.

Q: Was this book meant to be a commentary on religion, or a commentary on relationships between mothers and daughters?

Anne Leigh Parrish: Obviously I have something of an obsession with both. Regarding religion, I think it’s very divisive – organized religion is, I mean to say. The attitude always seems to be “you’re one of us, or you’re not.” Faith, on the other hand, is very different, and private in nature. Sometimes the relationship mothers and daughters have runs into the trouble religious doctrine does – mothers can be hypocritical, exclusive, and narrow-minded. Or, the daughters can be. The rules children are raised by can be like a doctrine, accepted, long-standing, and often unexamined.

Q: A theme of the book is women running away from their roots, how do you propose that women break the cycle of clashing with their mothers, especially when they can only see glimpses of the past that heavily shaped these relationships?

Anne Lee Parrish: It all comes down to honesty, and how open one can be with the next generation. I think as daughters, we have more patience for our own mothers when we become mothers ourselves. And as mothers, if we look back to the younger daughters we once were, we can find a greater patience and sensitivity to those who lack the life we experience we’ve managed to acquire.

Q: The role of fathers in this novel is also pretty consistent across the four generations, who do you think bears more responsibility for how the daughters turned out?

Anne Leigh Parrish: Well, in the case of Faith and Hope (Freddie and Holly), their mother Lorraine was wholly responsible for their upbringing, or lack thereof. They never knew their father, although in fact they lived with him day by day in the Baptist camp. Olaf was a benevolent if absent father to Lorraine, a sin of omission rather than one of commission, on his part. Ken, on the other hand, was very hard on Beth, which in turn had a huge impact on her life choices. Ken clearly had the biggest influence of any father in the book.

Q: Of all the couples, why is that we only get to see Freddie and Ken in the rawest light? They truly seem to be connected to one another, especially after Ken's death.

Anne Leigh Parrish: I think I sympathize most with Freddie in this novel – I identify with her the most, and probably for that reason her relationship is most clearly – and bluntly drawn. The idea that in death one becomes closer is a personal one. After my own mother died, I found we had conversations from time to time, and I learned things about her I didn’t understand as well while she was still alive. I know that sounds odd, but when one is dead, the threat of them and the unhappiness they caused you are lessened a great deal, and they can occupy a gentle place within. I tried to illustrate this with Freddie talking to Ken.

Q: What do you make of the fact that Beth has a son instead of a daughter and that she has returned home and has a chance to mend her relationship with her mother but not her father?

Anne Leigh Parrish: This is one of those odd twists I think any good book needs to have. I think Beth will become a decent mother in time, and be sensitive to the difficulties men face in the world – her attitude about men, which has been cynical and rather unloving, is bound to change. After reacting badly to her experience of her father, she’ll turn a corner, and see him in a different light. And this wisdom, I hope, will let her be more tolerant of Freddie, too. I think she’s well on her way there, by the time the book ends.

Q: What do you think will be the contributing factor that allows Beth to break this destructive cycle of bad relationships between mother and daughter?

Anne Leigh Parrish: She’s going to grow up, essentially. She’s going to see her mother as an independent person with her own experiences, capable of making rational choices. For a lot of her life, Beth has projected her own issues with her father on to Freddie, assuming that Freddie felt as bullied and abused by him as she herself did. Some of that is true, but not nearly as much as Beth assumes. And she’ll learn some things from her about the value of being consistent when dealing with a child.