Susan Tepper: Meg, I’ve read many stories about domestic issues, yet few have the “lightning strike” quality that permeates “Leader of Men.” Their kitchen isn’t charged but super-charged! It sizzles with danger. I expect something to strike and burn at any moment.
In the first paragraph you write:
He was waving a butcher knife out in front of himself while he spoke, and with each thrust, the knife, a bit of a yes-man itself, nodded up and down in obvious collusion…
The man becomes the knife becomes the man… some serious aggression going on here, in this excerpt from your brand-new novel, Domestic Apparition. Give us the skinny on this guy.
Meg Tuite: Susan, he’s a beauty, isn’t he? I’ve always been horrified by what some women or men, for that matter, will take in relationships!! I see this man as a hell-fire dominatrix who throws his weight around in every part of their relationship, including something as inane as how to cut up a tomato! It’s psychological abuse of the deepest kind to attempt to weather someone down day by day, but I have seen examples of this, as I’m sure most people have! This kind of guy is insecure, always tucks his shirt in and wears his pants on the high-side. He parts his hair to the right and has had the same haircut since he was five, although the bald spot growing in the middle of his head disturbs him deeply. He likes to experiment with moustaches. His swagger is a body tic he’s learned to work by practicing in the mirror naked after showers and masturbating to Tom Jones. He drinks scotch on the rocks in public, though in private he likes a nice Kahlua and creme. And he’s an extremist when it comes to working out! He likes fast-walking in short shorts five to ten miles a day, pumping arms and hips, once again to Tom Jones on his headphones or Mariah Carey. And not a big fan of boxers. He tends toward the jockstrap.
Susan: Holy crap! I’ve heard of writers being aware of their characters, but you have this guy so fully formed in your mind that it’s scary. Well I’m scared of him. I’m scared of control-freak men. Do you think he was like this from the get-go, when she first met and married him?
Meg: I think everyone should be scared of him, except for Tom Jones. I definitely see the courtship period as short-lived. He tossed a few bouquets her way and took her out for a few nice meals and then he pulled out the ring. He yanked his psycho-Mom’s ring from her dead finger and put it on his wife-soon-to-be-punching-bag’s finger quickly– before she got to see more than a manly man with glimpses of rage.
Susan: Since this is a domestic drama (very quirky one) and lifted from your novel of that title, I want to stay with this a little bit more. I once read that people get the love life they deserve. I guess a marriage could be construed in the same way. He must full fill some need in her, or some desire for punishment. Do you think so?
Meg: I definitely believe that we are drawn to people that will help us either grow and move on to higher ground or to grovel in the pits, until finally the one being victimized fights back. The woman in this story may not be ready for a face-to-face with this Cro-Magnon man, but she gets the final word at the end. I see her as ready to dump the guy or have it out with him. Or, as a lot of folk do, unfortunately, which is create their quiet revolts without rocking the boat.
Susan: I’m just nuts for this couples stuff, and even more so for the triangle. We haven’t gotten around to discussing the “third party” here, the latent watching voice: the Greek chorus. Is yours a boy or girl, and do you know its approximate age?
Meg: In the novel, the narrator is a young girl, in adolescence at this point. She’s watching her parents dance this dance. She’s a silent observer, who sees many things without being noticed.
Susan: I felt it was a young girl. There is a lot of empathy for the Mom, I could hear it just by the way the moments get expressed. By incorporating this third party voice, the way it’s used in this story, makes for a much more dramatic scene than if it were just the man and woman written 3rd person POV. That would still be dramatic. But having this girl-child get in there like a little mouse, well, that is rough. And as a reader I became fearful of what would transpire in this household. What the future holds for the Mom and the girl, despite the Mom taking a stand (of sorts) at the end. I really wanted her to bludgeon him to death, he is so unbearable. He’s one of those types you see in a café bullying his family, and you want to dump your coffee over his head.
Meg: Once I found myself next to a couple in a car at a stop sign. And he was screaming away like a banshee. And I had just finished working a 12-hr shift, and man, did I get in his face. I told the rat scum that I was calling the police and asked the woman if she was all right. She just stared at me and then I saw a little boy in the back seat frozen in fear and I just lost it. He started backing off and said no, no police, and then I stayed on his tail and called the cops and followed him until they pulled him over. I’ve been haunted by that ever since. I hope to God he didn’t beat the crap out of her afterwards. I was the glad the cops came, but hadn’t thought about the consequences for the woman who couldn’t speak up for herself or the little boy. At the time, I was just filled with rage at him!!!!!
Susan: I hear you. I hate that stuff. It takes a deep soul to write what you have put down in this story, Meg, and in your transcendent new book.
Read “Leader of Men“ by Meg Tuite
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.