For Books’ Sake Talks to: Rachel B. Glaser

1st Mar 2016

For Books' Sake Talks to: Rachel B. Glaser
Paulina & Fran is a bold debut novel about two friends who meet at a New England art school but go their separate ways after graduation. Here we chat with Rachel B. Glaser about female friendship, art, and the difficulty of the post-university years.

“It’s hard to be your age. There’s maybe too much freedom. Or too much pressure…” one of Fran’s professors says. How do you contrast the simultaneous sense of entitlement and lack of confidence bound up in the university years?

I think when one is approaching the end of something, they feel a sense of accomplishment, but after completing it, they are in a new, vulnerable, unknown place. They have arrived at the last part of their plan. The waters crash upon the rocks! I think art students feel the contrast very deeply. They have studied something that, in some ways, is very irrelevant to the bigger goings on in the world. Of course I don’t see it that way, and you don’t, and the world is made up of millions of sub-worlds, but I imagine a law student or doctor might exit his schooling with a bit more certainty.

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry famously declares, “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Given the love triangle the two central characters get involved in, would you extend that statement to female friendships, too?

I find that the initial thrill of a new friend is pretty similar whether they are a man or woman—someone has piqued my interest, and I want to talk & talk to them. I personally disagree with Harry’s statement and have a lot of great male friendships. I think an aspect of most friendships involves not directly acknowledging any sexual curiosity. Friends leave it undisturbed, to be hinted at occasionally, in jokes or with love. I guess society is loud, even when we think we aren’t listening, because even though I find the sexual tension in my male friendships pretty low on the Richter scale, I find the tension in my women friendships (with women who are bisexual or lesbian) at an even quieter frequency.

Paulina is mostly bravado, and yet we also get glimpses of a more tender side of her – like the security blanket she still carries around. Is she really as tough as she tries to appear, and why does she feel she has to keep up the façade?

I think Paulina is conscious of what vibes she is putting out to the world. Inwardly, she acknowledges weakness, but outwardly she has no interest in sharing that. She’s a factory of emotions. She feels sadness and anger, but is sometimes able to churn it into ambition or power. She is tough because she adapts. She keeps up the façade because she believes we are all part façade, so picks her outer shell with style.

In one scene, Fran straightens her hair and Paulina doesn’t even recognize her. What is the significance of curly hair in your novel?

Hair plays different roles in different moments. It attracts, repulses, reveals. In the novel, curly hair is extravagant and troublesome. It changes during a party. It exposes vanity, it ruins confidence, it drags along behind, like the past, it dries with age, it distracts from life.

I guess society is loud, even when we think we aren’t listening, because even though I find the sexual tension in my male friendships pretty low on the Richter scale, I find the tension in my women friendships (with women who are bisexual or lesbian) at an even quieter frequency. The Norway trip is such an interesting element of the book – both what actually happens and how it is turned into the stuff of legend afterwards. What did you want to convey about memory and self-construction?

I’m interested in how the mind fixates on what was good in the past and wants it for the future. It’s hard to think about a person you haven’t met yet, so often we long for people we’ve known, and if we haven’t seen these people in months or years, the people can become towering mythical beings. I remember missing my first boyfriend after we broke up, and I would imagine him Godzilla-sized, walking along the horizon, behind the buildings. Whenever I think of any of my past romances, they seem so eventful! But it’s because it’s hard to remember boredom and repetitive days, and the odd moments that weren’t clearly great or terrible. So much of experience is hard to recall, and so many memories have a beautiful Instagram filter on them.

Meanwhile Fran ends up painting houses and writing test questions. How can women pursue their art if it doesn’t pay the rent?

Work a little every day! If you are writing a book and can only work for an hour a day, think about your book while you’re in bed, waiting for sleep. I find that’s a good time to solve narrative problems. If you are an oil painter and can’t afford a studio, go acrylic for a while. If you can’t be in a class or share a studio with a friend, then form a workshop, or email chain. Getting your friends involved can help inspire you, and creating weekly or monthly deadlines get things done.

Your book might be grouped with other satirical novels about female friendship by Emily Gould, Alexandra Kleeman and Emma Jane Unsworth. Is this a particular movement or subgenre? If so, what would you call it?

Those novels are all on my to-read list! The Kleeman is in my suitcase, and the Unsworth is being sent to my house. So, I’m not prepared to name this movement just yet, but I’m glad women are writing such interesting characters, and bending realities, and creating new kinds of sentences.

Which other writers (especially women writers) most inspire you?

My favourites are Joy Williams, Jane Bowles, Ottessa Moshfegh, Miranda July, Paula Fox, and Lore Segal.

Can you give FBS readers a quick preview of your next project?

I’ve been hard at work adapting Paulina & Fran for the big screen, and have also been writing two other screenplays, Pope Jessica (a comedy), and Dead Woman (a drama).


Rachel B. Blaser is the author of the short story collection “Pee On Water” and a poetry collection called “MOODS”. She received a BFA in Painting from RISD, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Umass-Amherst. She tweets @candle_face

Paulina & Fran (Granta) is Glaser’s debut novel. It is available to buy now.