Eliot Schrefer may be one of America’s next great writers. Only 28-year old, the Harvard graduate just released his second novel, The New Kid.
An exploration of estrangement, elation, sex and sin, The New Kid offers the reader two half-siblings: Humphrey and Gretchen. The bulk of the novel revolves around their respective struggles – Humphrey’s attempts to adapt in his new Floridian town and the last gasps of Gretchen’s relationship. The final third brings them together in a surprisingly suspenseful climax. As a whole, Schrefer’s stark prose delves into the perils of universal alienation.
Our editor recent caught up with Schrefer for a chat. See what the boys had to say about teenage objectification, S&M and why Schrefer thinks it’s alright to be bored.
After the jump, of course…
Andrew Belonsky: We were just chatting and you said you enjoyed writing The New Kid more than your first, Glamorous Desires. You said The New Kid was a much more “honest experience”.
Eliot Schrefer: There are so many other young authors out there – I knew I had to make strategic choices to make the book, get an agent, getting a publisher. I ended up creating a book that wasnâ€™t necessarily the most intimate story that I knew, but one that I thought would break me out and get me a publisher. The second book, I had a lot more liberty to write what I liked. Thatâ€™s what came out.
AB: What was your intention?
ES: I donâ€™t know if I had an intention. When you read books and you realize the authorâ€™s intention – that tends to be not the most satisfying experience. I had written two short stories that I wanted to marry and make one book.
AB: And thatâ€™s Humphrey and Gretchen?
ES: Actually, one was from [divorced] Brandyâ€™s point of view, in the first section â€“ the scene when sheâ€™s at the gym class watching her son that sheâ€™s barred from seeing. I thought the first part would be largely about her and then it became a totally different story. It became Humphreyâ€™s story, so I had to go back and reedit it. Then there was a short story about a young woman flying to Tokyo to visit a boyfriend she was about to breakup with â€“ that was the voice of Gretchen. That story didnâ€™t make it into the book, but she became Gretchen.
AB: The concept of â€œnewnessâ€ comes up in a lot of different ways, but I’d specifically like to discuss one part where Gretchenâ€™s talking about her relationship with Rajan. She wonders, “How does anyone remain the person who was fallen in love with…” Did you draw that from your own experience?
ES: There’s a time in every long-term relationship when you realize that you will eventually know everything about the other person. Or know enough that you can predict. You wonâ€™t have a sense of excitement. You have to learn to love boredom and the day-to-day pleasantness instead of those first ten dates of excitement. I think Gretchen was feeling that she always had to provide that first energy of discovery. She always had to allow herself to be discovered.
AB: But maybe she was right. Maybe it does have to be new and exciting.
ES: Well, for her it certainly did. The relationship wasnâ€™t working once it wasnâ€™t.
AB: Thereâ€™s also a dread to newness.
ES: How so?
AB: For example, Humphrey is the new kid at school. Heâ€™s excited about it, but heâ€™s dreading the experience of being new, of having to make friends, etcetera.
ES: The reason why I wanted to focus on newness in the book is that weâ€™re at a moment in time when we can easily move and pick up. In the past, you were stuck in your town, stuck with your family and you had to accept what was there because there wasnâ€™t always the option to move on. Now, we definitely have the option to move on… start a new job, a new relationship. And I think that comes with a lot of risks: the idea that thereâ€™s always something better stops a lot of people from attaching to their life right then. If you wanted to talk about intention of the book, thatâ€™s the closest you would come: I wanted to explore the risks of always thinking there is something better out there.
AB: Gretchen and Humphrey are both looking for families and they have these familial fantasies that end up getting shattered in terrible waysâ€¦they donâ€™t go back to their mother, because sheâ€™s a bad parent, so they form this new family.
ES: Family is the one thing that is, for most people, inescapable – until you reach a certain age. Gretchen manages to by getting a scholarship to a boarding school. Humphrey canâ€™t escape his parents and all the energy that should be going toward a parent attachment canâ€™t, so heâ€™s looking for other places to send it. My parents are divorced and Iâ€™m not so close with my dad, so I definitely know about estrangement with a parent, but I also know about that feeling of complete support from one parent. I find the estrangement much more interesting in a literary sense.