Emerald City and Other Stories
“The Stylist” appeared in Jennifer Egan’s debut story collection, Emerald City, published in 1993 when she was thirty-one, and it won praise for its understated elegance and it’s cool, clean, wrenching prose. The story was her first published work, appearing in The New Yorker in 1989. Egan is the author of four novels including A Visit From The Goon Squad, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. Egan lives with her husband, David Herskovits, a theater director, and their two sons, in Brooklyn. Jennifer Egan spoke with Storyville editor Paul Vidich about “The Stylist.”
Vidich: “The Stylist” was published in The New Yorker when you were 26. How did that early recognition change your expectations about yourself and others’ expectations for you?
Egan: It added a little legitimacy, which was nice from a parental point of view. But, beyond that, I don’t think it changed all that much. It was one of those big events that didn’t have quite the impact you’d think. As a young person I was looking for that magical transformation, but I have learned there is no one thing that changes everything. It’s always an accretion of things. And it’s such a relief to know that because then one’s expectations become much more reasonable.
Vidich: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Egan: I was 18. I was traveling in Europe alone between high school and college and having a very hard time. I think that’s when I knew. I had taken a year off between high school and college thinking I wanted to be an archaeologist, and dug up Mississippian Indian remains. It was slow tedious work and not what I had imagined. So I left. I got a backpack and I went to Europe. I started having these panic attacks in Europe. I had never heard the term “panic attack.” Anxiety attacks are more commonly understood now. I would just become terrified. I thought they were drug flashbacks, a la, Go Ask Alice. I thought I was actually crazy. I was terrified that my life was over. Writing became my lifeline. I have my journal from that trip. Again and again I clung to the idea that I was going to write and that was what I cared about. I’ve wavered tons in confidence, but I never have wavered, even with a lot of, sometimes a lot of discouragement, I’ve never wavered that I was going to write. Not once.
Vidich: Rockford, Illinois is the hometown of Alice, the young model in “The Stylist,” and it’s the hometown of Charlotte Swenson, the model in you second novel, Look At Me. What’s your connection to Rockford?
Egan: It’s my mother’s hometown. I didn’t grow up there, but I visited it. When I was in Chicago, I spent a lot of time there. My grandparents lived there and I went there as a little girl. When I got older we would go for a period every summer and I adored it. I loved country club life. After my grandparents both passed away I found myself thinking a lot about Rockford. I went back with my mother once and saw this industrial past superseded by fast food mall culture. You could feel it. It’s all there in the architecture of the place. I became very interested in that sense of lost time and place.
Source: excerpted from interview conducted by Paul Vidich for Narrative Magazine.