Anne Roiphe says she’s not a particularly private person.
It’s a fitting analysis from someone who started mining her personal life for stories at age 28. She’s written 17 books, netting a significant reputation over the years for her memoirs, essays, novels and newspaper columns. Now the longtime West Sider has a new book, Epilogue (HarperCollins, $25.95), a powerful memoir about how her life changed in the aftermath of the death of her husband, Dr. Herman Roiphe, a famed psychoanalyst.
In Epilogue, Roiphe takes readers through the little and big challenges facing a widow newly on her own, from unlocking her own front door to Internet dating and facing the first round of Jewish holidays without a loving mate.
Roiphe, a 70-something feminist, sat down on a recent rainy morning to talk over breakfast about her new book, the writing life and the city she calls home. What follows is an edited transcript.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
A: Many people have said to me, “How could you do this, wasn’t it very painful?” What was painful was me was living through this experience. What was not painful was me writing about it, because writing brings a sense of, I suspect, control. You are focusing on the right words. You are selecting from 25 facts and putting the right one. Re-reading it is hard. Re-working it is hard. But writing it is not.
Q: You’ve been dismissive about how some writers are “carrying on.” When you use the phrase “carrying on,” what do you mean?
A: It means thinking it’s art, thinking of yourself as an artist. That you really ought to get drunk every night because you are such a great artist. Whatever the paraphernalia…I’m a craftsperson. It’s a craft. I’m not saying that no one is an artist. I’m just saying I’m a craftsperson.
Q: There’s another writer I love: Joan Didion.
A: Me too.
Q: And I can’t help but ask: Did you read her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which is also about the loss of a spouse?
A: Of course.
Q: Did it make it harder to write your book? Did it make you astounded by the attention it got?
A: Joan Didion is a brilliant and amazing writer, and there is no question about that. I wish I could write as well as she does. That would be just terrific. On the other hand, I am me, so I can only do what I do, and I’m a very different writer and a very different person. And Joan Didion’s book I read before my husband died. Joan Didion is actually an extremely private person. She made you think you were reading a very intimate book about her experience, and that’s not exactly what’s happening.
And I am not a particularly private person. Perhaps because I was married to a psychoanalyst, and perhaps because I had a different culture or perhaps because I’m Jewish, whatever it is, I have a different relationship to the outside world than she does. I was more interested in how you pick up your life afterward.
Q: You write very honestly about loneliness. Was it hard?
A: If I were a private person, I would have had to have had a different career. Also, I really believe that there is nothing I have experienced or nothing I feel that has not been felt and is not out there in the world. There is nothing to be ashamed of in my feelings. They are echoed in other people in their own ways. Therefore, I’m not thinking that other people are going to look at me and say, “Oh, my God, she’s lonely.”
Q: You write in the book about Internet dating. Did you really give up on the dating aspect? What was the lesson of all of that?
A: Nothing particularly. I am not online at the moment, but I may do it again in a few months if I feel like it. I’ve met several people since finishing the book. I’ve had several interesting encounters. If I meet someone, that would be wonderful. If I don’t, as I said in the book…it’s not a book of sociology. I did not get into the statistics and the odds. The men my age with 50-year-olds. There’s a real world out there and that’s part of the story too.
Q: Do you still think of leaving New York City?
A: I have a fantasy of moving to Sag Harbor, which I love, but there is the unfortunate fact that in the winter it gets dark at 4 o’clock, and I am very un-fond of the dark. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I would like to go to a ranch in Montana.
Q: Have you been to a ranch on Montana?
A: No. Actually, I did take a trip years ago. It’s the alternate life that one might have lived that’s always hanging around us.
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