March 13, 2008
Books: Pot-smoking antihero proves cathartic for her creator
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"We were talking about naming our children after our dead brothers," said Albert, who married the man, a 30-something Jewish attorney, in 2003.
That their stormy union lasted less than a year inspired her to write the short story, "The New York Times Divorce Announcement," in which the narrator says, "It wasn't only my life and heart I'd destroyed: I felt I had dashed the hopes of loved ones, wasted an obscene amount of money, and failed to fulfill the needs of my people by reproducing."
Albert's first novel -- which is more coming-of-death story than coming-of-age, Nextbook noted -- walks a line between gravitas and irreverence. After her diagnosis, Albert describes Dahlia wondering: "What if what she'd assumed were semi-meaningful associations built up over the course of her life were really just indifferent non-relationships after all? Was it possible that the horror of this wouldn't ruffle anyone else? If she'd had a significant other, a dog, an apartment of her own. Anything! But she had only bad credit, exes and a small mortgage on a house that had been handed to her. So now she has cancer and it's back home to Daddy. F--- she thought. Over and over again: f---. The only thought that made the least bit of sense: f---."
Writing the novel was often painful for Albert.
"Being alone in Dahlia's mindset made for some late nights," she recalled.
"When I write, I'm like an actor inhabiting a role. Dahlia is not me, but sometimes I had to remind myself, 'OK, I don't feel completely desolate and alone in the world.'"
As she dragged herself to bed one night at 4 a.m., Albert scribbled "I am not her" on a Post-It and stuck it on the bathroom mirror.
Ultimately, the writing process proved cathartic.
"At 19, I didn't think to sit down with my brother and talk to him about what he was feeling," she said. "Telling Dahlia's story was a way to have that conversation."
Albert will speak on March 24 at Dutton's Brentwood and on March 25 at Skylight Books. For more information, visit www.elisaalbert.com.
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