Bookish Birthdays: Susan Minot
7th Dec 2011
Susan Minot was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1956, and grew up as one of seven children in a large, Catholic family in Manchester-on-Sea. She studied painting and writing at Brown University, and in her senior year tragically lost her mother in a car accident.
After graduating she returned home for a while to care for her father and younger sister, before moving to New York to study for her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia.
After having short stories published in both Grand Street and The New Yorker, Susan Minot was offered a three-book deal by legendary publisher Seymour Lawrence.
Her first novel, Monkeys, is a partly autobiographical account of the impact on her family after the loss of her mother. Structured as nine short stories, Monkeys follows a large New England family, the Vincents, as their love is tested by a tragic accident.
I like the short sentences, fast pace and lyrical style, and I like the resigned tone of the narrator, but mostly, I like the fact that it could have been written about my life.Her second book, Lust and Other Stories, is a collection of shorts detailing a series of disappointing, tragic relationships between young, heterosexual couples in New York. The opener, Lust, is probably my all-time favourite short story.
I like the short sentences, fast pace and lyrical style, and I like the resigned tone of the narrator, but mostly, I like the fact that it could have been written about my life. Lust is essentially a list of all the stupid, rubbish boys that the narrator went with as a teenager, with a brief description of the encounter.
They are not always sexual (but they mostly are) and using just one or two sentences, Minot manages to convey the emotional impact of that particular slow dance, fireside fumble or drunken mistake at a boarding school house party.
In her third novel, Folly, Minot placed her female protagonist in 1920s Boston, suppressed by a Brahmin background, stating that this was an era that always disturbed her as she tried to imagine how women could stay in that world.
In 1994, she was approached by director Bernardo Bertolucci, and agreed to develop his idea for a screenplay about a young American girl visiting English expatriate artists in Tuscany.
In recent years, Susan Minot has also published Rapture, a novella about a couple who were previously involved in a three-year affair, and Poems 4 A.M, a collection of modern, contemplative poetry about romance.
Although Susan Minot has been praised for her emotive portrayal of young, single women, her work is not without its critics. Many have argued that her female characters are weak and helpless, comparable with early literary representations of women.
A lot of the conflict in Minot’s work comes from the men and women having different ideas about what they want out of a relationship, and it is difficult to argue that the male characters are not sometimes a little one dimensional in their apathy and sole focus on sexual fulfilment.
However, I am more inclined to agree with the theory that Minot’s characters are in limbo between two contrasting ideals. Their parents’ generation have enforced on them conventions of romance, sexual repression and the need for a committed, heterosexual relationship.
But as they got older, modern culture gave them the possibility of independence, professional development and sexual liberation. The result is that Minot’s characters basically end up putting out and expecting love.
If that’s a cliché then, well, all I can say is that I know a lot of girls whose lives are one lazy representation of women after another. It’s not un-feminist to give your female characters flaws.
In fact I think it’s vital that women like Susan Minot keep writing these characters and telling girls ‘it’s okay if that’s you’. I know that I wouldn’t have just finished my first novel without books like Lust and Other Stories telling me not only is it okay to write about girls having sex, but it’s even okay to write about how bad it was.
So thank you, Susan Minot, and Happy Birthday!