#WritersRead — Pamela Moses

Article by marycatherine

by Mary-Catherine Breed 

Pamela Moses’s debut novel, THE APPETITES OF GIRLS, tells stories about four college suitemates--Ruth, Fran, Opal, and Setsu--through the lens of their relationships with food. It is not a light romp about girlhood and finding yourself. It hurts, bruises, and frustrates. Ruth is trapped in excruciating dinners with her Jewish parents. Francesca starts binge eating to escape the pressure of Upper East Side expectations. Meanwhile, Opal runs into trouble when she tries to emulate her resort-hopping mother's glamour and wiles. And then there's Setsu, whose adopted brother has taken over the household, including Setsu's food portions. Through these characters, Moses allows insight into some of the truly devastating and often subtle pressures placed on women during all stages of life.

We talked to Moses about the struggles of young women, the importance of college roommates, and the grounding properties of writing in this installment of #WritersRead.

Brazos Bookstore: This book’s cover, title, and premise suggest that it could have YA crossover potential. However, the book is often adult in subject matter. How do you feel about the potential for teens to read THE APPETITES OF GIRLS?

Pamela Moses: Each young woman’s struggle in the book—to find her own strength and her true self—is one with which YA readers of all ages would identify, I think; but I agree that some of the subject matter is a bit too adult for young teen readers. While families and readers will make individual decisions about when the book might be introduced, my feeling is that the book is appropriate for older teens and beyond. My son is twelve and my daughter is ten, and I cannot imagine allowing them to read the book in its entirety for quite some time, which, of course, has only resulted in piquing their curiosity!

BB: How do you hope female readers approach this book? Male readers?

PM: A bookseller once wrote of the book that it “will resonate with all females be they fifteen, fifty or ninety—and it will help men to better understand them.” This is my hope. Women in particular, I feel, will recognize the relationships the characters have with food and body image, with their mothers, with men; but the journey of the four friends in the book to overcome difficult circumstances, to overcome self-doubt in order to claim happiness and the best in themselves is, I believe, part of a universal human experience, and what each of us—whether female or male—is working towards. And so, in this way, I hope readers of both sexes will connect to the book.

BB: There’s a lot of honesty in this book about the unique—and often painful—experiences of women. Which other authors do you recommend for a similar voice or perspective on girlhood?

PM: I would recommend Sheila Kohler’s books and short stories. I have learned so much from her. She captures so poignantly the conflicting emotions of adolescence. I would also suggest Rebecca Rasmussen’s THE BIRD SISTERS and some of Jumpha Lahiri’s stories, especially “Once in a Lifetime” from her collection UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, as well as books by Amy Tan. As I began work on THE APPETITES OF GIRLS, I was inspired by Amy Tan’s THE JOY LUCK CLUB and by the vulnerabilities and secret longings of her girl characters.

BB: Did you have suitemates in college? Tell us about them! Are you still upholding a lifelong friendship pact like the girls in the book?

PM: I did have suitemates in college, and during my senior year I shared a house off campus with nine other women! I was fortunate to have wonderful roommates and housemates in college. A number of them remain some of my closest friends today. We are scattered across the country now but do try to reunite when possible.

Though we never made any official pact of friendship, we were family for one another in those college years—many of us away from home for the first time. Each of us was finding who she was, who she was meant to be. It was an exhilarating time filled with so much possibility but not without its share of anxiety and heartache. So we, as all college roommates do, observed and lived with the best and worst in each other—a potential recipe for disaster, but in our case, thankfully, these shared experiences led to lifelong friendships.

BB: You have no idea whom we’ll talk to for the next Brazos Q&A, but never mind that: What should we ask him/her?

PM: When did you first tell yourself you were a writer? When did you first tell other people?

BB: Speaking of which, María Dueñas wants to know: Why do you write?

PM: I write because when I do, I feel I am most fully myself. Writing grounds me and comes from an inner need to create. If I could not write, I am afraid I would be turning out embarrassingly bad paintings or terrible pottery!

Pamela Moses visits Brazos Bookstore on Thursday, November 20 at 7PM. Reserve your signed copy today!

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