PAUL LINCZAK received an MFA from Syracuse University, where he was a Cornelia Carhart Ward Fellow in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Salt Hill and Stone Canoe. His story, “Frankenstorm,” appeared in Carolina Quarterly 65.3.
CQ: While the protagonist (who is never given a name) briefly references past personal troubles—an aborted suicide attempt, romantic disappointments—readers are never given a full, detailed account of these events, nor their resolutions. How do the barely surfacing demons of the protagonist relate to the thematic concerns of the narrative?
PL: Death is one of the primary concerns in the story; there are reminders of it everywhere, from 9/11 to Kurt Cobain. I think the narrator approaches it from a distance—she keeps her emotions in check, tends to be critical and unsentimental—until her grandfather’s bequest pushes her into more emotional, and more personal, territory. And then the storm, of course, puts her own death right in her face. That’s where those demons surface, though, as you point out, she’s reluctant to explain much about them. The story is also concerned with worth, as embodied in the house the narrator inherits, and some of the memories that surface for her can be read as examples of her thinking about perceptions of her own worth.
CQ: The protagonist works in the post-9/11, post-2008 economic crisis New York City financial industry. Did you originally envision this character occupying this particular world, or was placing her in this industry a strategic way to address other concerns in the narrative? What aspects of this industry interest you as a writer?
PL: I did originally envision this character occupying Wall Street, so to speak, and placing her there was strategic. It’s a fascinating world, where the personal collides with the abstract in sometimes disturbing ways. Our contradictory feelings about wealth—if Powerball ticket sales are any indicator, most people want it, but we also fear it and despise it—play out most obviously in the financial services world, where people sometimes come from humble backgrounds and struggle with what wealth does and means. It can make for interesting stories.
CQ: Readers learn that the protagonist identified more with her deceased grandparents than with her own mother and father. If we can say the grandparents’ house “skips a generation” when it is bequeathed to the protagonist, how can we read the narrative as a commentary on the illogic of traditional familial relationships?
PL: You can certainly view the story through that lens. Is family love a right or something you earn? The narrator tells us that her father has violated her privacy, or her personal integrity, more than once. He seems to think biology gives him a right to behavior that a lot of people wouldn’t tolerate—or forgiveness that a lot of people wouldn’t offer—in any other circumstance. In other words, he seems to view family love as a given, which reflects a very traditional understanding of what families are. Many people share that understanding, but the narrator and her grandfather seem to see things differently.
CQ: The narrative takes a dramatic turn approximately halfway through the story. What are the difficulties, complexities, frustrations, or thrills of writing disasters in the short story form? Why did you choose to center your narrative on an actual recorded disaster from history?
PL: I experienced both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, so I knew I could write about them with some specificity. And the difference between the two was so dramatic I wanted to write something about it. Actually, the run the narrator goes for at the beginning of the story was inspired by a woman I saw out for a leisurely jog as Irene passed overhead. She ran past my building, up the middle of a deserted avenue. Sandy, of course, was much worse, and the difficulties writing about it were numerous. For one, Sandy was an enormous event, and short stories are typically small openings into life, so I wasn’t sure if I could write about it in a way that wouldn’t overpower the narrator’s personal story. There was also the challenge of describing an event that is familiar to many people in a way that seems interesting. I don’t know if I succeeded, in the end, but it felt good to plop a hurricane into the middle of a short story.
CQ: The title of your story refers to the name the media gave Hurricane Sandy in 2012. How does the media’s involvement in the panic surrounding Hurricane Sandy connect with the progression of the narrative?
PL: I think the narrator has Irene fresh in mind, which the media played up as they do any weather event, and when that storm turned out to be relatively minor in New York, her skepticism was raised. It’s a big reason why she puts things off as Sandy approaches and ends up caught off guard. So among other things, the title is a nod to the sensationalism that plays a role in the narrator’s story, though in the case of Hurricane Sandy, it really did turn out to be a monster storm right at Halloween. Sometimes meteorologists are right. Go figure.