Ok, so this was pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to me since…jeez, I don’t know since when. Bound South was in today’s Vanity Fair blog!
Rebecca Sacks, who did the interview, was really warm and seriously smart. As in, her questions made me think about my book in whole new ways.
Here’s the interview:
by Rebecca Sacks
Susan Rebecca White’s engrossing debut novel, Bound South (Touchstone), in bookstores today, charts the intertwined lives of three Atlantan women through narration from the matronly Louise Parker, her vivacious daughter Caroline, and Missy Meadows, the devout child of their housekeeper. With unmistakably Georgian warmth, White answered VF Daily’s questions about being a Southern gal.
VF Daily: This book starts and ends with a funeral. How does death relate to concepts of the old and new South?
Susan Rebecca White: There’s something about Nanny Rose [Louise’s mother-in-law] dying that is symbolic about that part of the South fading away. Atlanta is such a different city than it was 30 years ago. As a point: one of my best friend’s parents, who were always Republicans, were hard-core Obama supporters. A lot of people who you would think would be hard-core Republicans have shifted. There is so much new blood and new energy in Atlanta. There is a sense that the gene pool is getting mixed up, and it’s a really good thing.
Several of the characters hold competing worldviews—Missy is an evangelical Christian, Louise and her daughter have more liberal leanings, and Louise’s husband is a straight-laced Southern Republican. Do you identify with one character’s system of truth most?
This might sound like a cop-out, but to a degree I most identify with the perspective of the novel that there are all of these truths that we live our lives in. If you pop into one person’s head, then the world is going to look very different than in another person’s head. That was drilled into me growing up—the idea that everyone has their own agenda and their own needs. But I’m a good Southern progressive; I registered like 200 voters this election. So I’m definitely with Louise and Caroline in the Yellow Dog Democrat camp.
What are some rituals that bring Southern families together?
There are all sorts of rules and rituals that Southerners do embrace, even to the degree of not wearing white shoes after Labor Day. When I was little, we would always go to the Krispy Kreme factory on Ponce de Leon, but if the “hot” sign wasn’t on we’d keep driving. You only had them when they were hot, and you had to sit inside and eat them right then.
Krispy Kreme has a sign out front that lights up when the donuts are fresh?
Yes, the “hot” sign! I believe the original factory in Atlanta is the one that’s on Ponce de Leon, and they had a big red “O”—like a donut. If it was lit and said “hot” that meant they were coming out from under the conveyor belt.
In an interview, you mentioned the artist Jody Fausett, whose photographs invite viewers into intimate moments. Does his work inform yours?
I don’t think I saw Jody’s work until I was most of the way done with the book. But there is a gallery in Atlanta—White Space, run by Susan Bridges. She has a fabulous old Victorian house and has made it into an award-winning gallery, and I definitely was influenced by her when I was thinking of Louise’s trajectory [eventually running an intimate gallery out of her home]. Susan is a grand Southern dame, but she has a total sense of the absurdity of the masks we put on as Southerners. A lot of her art represents that.
This seems to be something very present for a lot of artists—the absurd masks of Southerners. The most obvious example is Southern photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, whose subjects are literally wearing masks. You’ve embraced this and other distinctly Southern themes. Does that make you a Southern writer?
I think that having grown up in the South will always inform my writing … The book I’m working on now is set in Atlanta’s hippie/liberal/progressive area. I have this idea that I’ll do portraits of different parts of Atlanta. So in that way I am a Southern writer, but I think Atlanta as it was previously defined is not the same South. I guess I’m a New South writer.
This is such a sensory book. Food is described in detail, as are specific pieces of artwork; certain scenes even have specific soundtracks. It’s all very cinematic. Could you envision this book as a movie? Do you have a dream cast?
[Laughs.] Oh my God! My college roommate and I have a fantasy game thinking about who would be the cast of Bound South, but I feel slightly ridiculous talking about this. I’m working on a second book right now and I’m sort of on a deadline crunch with it, and I am definitely thinking about what it would look like cinematically, just to help me figure out how it goes together. So I think that’s there in my head, definitely.