by Alice Schechter
Always a devotee of literature and craft, E.V. Legters put her own desire to write at the center of her life the moment career and childrearing were behind her. Now, with short stories published in literary journals including Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, and StoryQuarterly, her well-received debut novel, Connected Underneath (2016), has been followed by Vanishing Point, released this spring. Though set in radically different worlds, these novels, as well as many of her short stories, address questions of identity and the consequences of choice.
In Vanishing Point, Angela Dunnewald examines her marriage, her friendships, and her obligations in terms of the presence or absence of emotions, love, essential meaning. Through Angela and her cast of characters, E.V. explores the very nature of identity. With equal measures of courage and fear, Angela steps onto a path toward authenticity from which there is no return.
E.V. Legters comes from the far-reaches of New York State, worked in advertising, traveled widely, raised three children, and earned her MFA at The Vermont College of Fine Arts. After many years of teaching at Connecticut schools and colleges, E.V. is currently at work on a short story collection and her third novel, and is in the process of relocating to Europe, where she plans total immersion in the writing life.
Alice Shechter: First I’d like to say it’s good to see you back here at Bloom, and with your second novel.
E.V. Legters: It’s good to be back.
AS: You’ve published two novels in your sixties and have another in the works. Novelists, whether male or female, seem apologetic if they’re in their forties before they publish their first. What do you think?
EVL: We like to pretend we don’t discriminate against age, or against women, but there is certainly a bias against older women, and against women writers, as evidenced by the rates at which work by men is reviewed compared to that of women. There are no ‘thirty over fifty or sixty’ contests like there are for those under thirty. I’m not only older and female, but white and middle class. But as we women know, we’ve seen a lot. Experienced a lot. Witnessed a great deal. There’s been joy and pain. Plenty of years to observe. Plenty of years to practice our craft. There’s no reason to think we can’t or shouldn’t publish later, and no reason not to recognize the contributions women new on the scene can make.
AS: How did you manage to publish Vanishing Point only a year after Connected Underneath?
EVL: I’ve known for a long time that I write nice sentences, but through my twenties and thirties and even forties – during the career and child-rearing years – I felt I had nothing new to offer. Then, during my fifties, something broke open. My short stories got published. I started work on Vanishing Point. Connected Underneath came later, but just happened to be picked up by Lethe Press first. I sometimes worked on them simultaneously.
AS: Would you agree there are common themes?
EVL: I would. I believe all literature is about identity, that instead of – as they used to say – man against man, man against nature, man against self, all stories are man or woman against themselves. Regardless of the conflict, the individual makes choices based on who they are or wish they are or think they are.
Vanishing Point takes place in an affluent suburb and Connected Underneath in a dying post-industrial town. But the outcomes of these very different stories depend upon the degree to which the characters can be honest with themselves and each other. The journey can be difficult.
AS: Vanishing Point does ask some very difficult questions.
Most of us aren’t bad people, but most of us make questionable choices at some point, choices that can be difficult to live with. To cope, we might fail to face the difficult questions, or avoid giving honest answers. At which point we disappear inside our own lives, or inside lives we didn’t intend.
AS: This is what’s happened in Vanishing Point?
EVL: Yes. The characters stopped asking themselves necessary questions years ago. Then, as the story opens, Angela, the main character, finds herself doing nothing but asking. For reasons even she doesn’t understand, she allows her even-keeled life to be up-ended. She – literally – opens the door, and lets new life in. A precarious life, a dangerous one, but a more honest one, for her and those around her.
AS: Is this true for Angela’s husband, Ross, as well? He asks questions? Confronts his demons? For much of the book, his behavior makes me cringe.
EVL: Ross, too. He came to me and asked if he could change. I said yes.
AS: Sex is central in the novel. Could you comment on that?
EVL: The urge towards intimacy is central to human existence, central to our identity. For couples, sex is – or isn’t – intimacy, discovery, an essential sharing. Angela’s journey involves exploration through sex, but not only sex, not only new-found intimacy. There are other ways available to her.
AS: Such as?
EVL: As a child, Angela’s artistic urges were squelched as impractical and childish. After earning a college degree in a practical field, she married a very practical attorney. Her friends – except for one who indulges in daydreams and ceramics – are engaged in practical, if trivial, pursuits. As her new life unfolds, she rediscovers her talent and her drive. She comes alive.
AS: What will you say to readers taken aback by Angela’s brazen, adulterous affair?
EVL: Angela asks why the only wedding vow that seems to matter is sexual fidelity. There are other ways to cheat, other vows to break. But people tend to ask only one question, whether he or she cheated sexually. Angela’s husband has cheated her in every way but this. Should he be forgiven and she condemned?
AS: Not all marriages and relationships fail in this way.
EVL: I admire those that are strong and supportive and nurturing, and not only start out but stay this way. But most marriages – most relationships of any kind – require compromise. As do Angela’s with her best friend, her lover, her parents. At what point does compromise blot identity out of existence? To the vanishing point? Until it seems too late? In Vanishing Point, I suggest it’s never too late.
AS: Do you consider this is a feminist novel?
EVL: I see it as one of liberation, since in it liberation takes many forms. A gay spouse coming out of the closet. A husband letting go of damaging preconceptions. A young man letting go of his past. A woman embracing her talents.
AS: Confronting lies, embracing identity – similar to Connected Underneath.
EV: Yes, the same, but very different. [SPOILER ALERT] In Vanishing Point, everyone lives.
AS: Was that a conscious decision?
EVL: As much as anything in the writing process is conscious. Left on their own, characters write their own narratives, make their own choices. Ross’s request was a turning point. It allowed the story to open itself up to possibility, instead of ending as so many stories about women who dare to find satisfaction do, with the search ending in sacrifice – Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, for example, or Sue Miller’s Good Mother.
AS: The ending to Vanishing Point is more ambiguous.
EVL: If art imitates life, and I believe it should, nothing that happens is the end of a story. There are no neatly tied threads. Not even with death. There is always an aftermath. There are always surprises. The unforeseen. All that’s unpredictable about human behavior.
I recently watched the movie, The Daughter, based on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. In Ibsen, the daughters dies, the grief and regret are permanent, but the impact of that on the survivors’ lives is uncertain. Interestingly, in the movie, it is not clear whether the daughter lives or dies, and I found this choice intriguing and brave.
AS: I enjoy the risks your work takes. What can you say about your next project?
EVL: We’re talking about releasing a collection of my short stories next year called When We’re Lying. As far as new work, it’s too early. I can say that although my concern, my fascination, continues to be with the nature of identity, especially in its fluidity, it’s taking a different path than any material I’ve worked with before. I’m very excited about it. I have a long way to go, but it’s moving forward, and won’t take me the decades my first two novels did!