“The Reading Life” welcomes Zarina Zabrisky, author of the novel We, Monsters (2014, Numina Press). Zarina is here as a stop on her Virtual Blog Tour to answer interview questions regarding the psychology in her novel.
First, a brief synopsis of the novel: A wife and mother searches the internet for a job as a dominatrix. She needs the experience; it’s research for a novel she’s writing about her dead sister. Taking the name Mistress Rose, she learns the darkest desires of the human psyche while slowly doubting her own perception of reality. Rose’s manuscript ends up in the hands of clinical psychologist Dr. Michael H. Strong, who adds footnotes in which he analyzes Mistress Rose’s behaviors and undoing.
Could you start by telling us a bit about your interest in psychology?
This is a simple, yet tricky question. Chronologically, it goes to my early teen years. From my father’s bookshelf (that I devoured without any discrimination, from books on Le Corbusier architecture to World War II history) I fished a book: “Modern Western Bourgeoisie and Its Decadent Philosophy of Art.” Freud was quoted in the most peculiar way: the author had to put “allegedly” each time he mentioned, say, Oedipus complex. That was a common lingo, the cryptic way of speaking about banned ideas and school of thoughts. It clicked immediately, and I craved more. The official course of psychology at my university sucked. So I kept reading Freud on and off, and that launched me into exploring on my own. Currently, I am slowly reading Jung, and connecting. I find a lot of writing inspiration in psychology books, from Victor Frankl to Bruno Bettleheim to Irvin Yalom to Esther Rashkin… Also, what is a writer but a psychologist? And vice versa. Salinger called Freud the greatest epic poet. Dostoevsky? Allegedly—
What is it about banned ideas that appeals to you?
Forbidden fruit... Not just that. I recently heard an artist commenting on my favorite composer, Schnittke: "They used to divide culture into official and non-official. It is nonsense. There is culture; and then, there is no culture." I grew up in a society where only one, official set of ideas was accepted and allowed. All other ideas were banned and punished. It was always clear to me that culture started where the ban began. The ban became a synonym for free and true.
Trying to beat the Orwellian tradition, the current Russian government is in the process of accepting a "new" law, called "The Fundamental Rules for the State Cultural Policy." The society where culture is rationed and censored by those in power is doomed, and the only hope for it is its true culture—banned and exiled.
He is an interesting character, one who I’m not totally sure we’re meant to trust! It’s probably the fact that he doesn’t wear a shirt in his author picture. It almost felt like you’re were making the reader mistrust everything he thought about Mistress Rose, who also mistrusts herself.
Here is an interesting psychological detail! The reader’s perception (and memory) of the portrait that reads as follows: “The first page was a full-page headshot of a burly man in a peony-pink shirt opened to the chest—a bit too seductively for a scientist.” So, in the photo, Dr. Strong IS wearing the shirt. In the text, the shirt is reduced by the description (we can see a small part of his chest.) In your mind, the shirt disappears: all we see is Dr. Strong inappropriate, exposed chest. Now, a question: what is trust? Can we trust our own mind? Our eyes? The reality? And, is this—really—reality? After all, we are talking fiction. Dr. Strong never existed, nor did his chest, nor did his shirt. Or, did they?.. Trust?
I remembered that he seemed inappropriate, but, since Mistress Rose is the one writing the manuscript we read, the fact that she thinks he is “a bit too seductive” says a lot about her, too. She is, after all, reading this book in a “dungeon.” Is Rose looking for a male figure to turn to, or am I reading too much into it? It’s just that her husband seems indifferent to his wife’s work as a dominatrix.
You got me! Rose is definitely “looking for the missing father”: whether it is Dr. Strong, Lenin, Jesus or her husband, remains to be answered. Rose is abandoned from an early childhood, and at the end of the day is desperate to be heard and to be seen by men—and women—in her life.Her tragedy is an inability to voice her tragedy. Rose, like many people, is stuck in the dungeon of her life. Her pain bounces back from the brick walls of indifference—that of her husband, her children, her non-existing family. Writing is one last attempt to connect to this deaf world. To break the walls.
What you say about Rose writing to speak to the world reminds me another of your virtual book tour stops in which you discuss the ways that you prepared for writing this book. I hope everyone joins us to learn more about We, Monsters and keeps an eye out for giveaways!
Purchase We, Monsters Here