Park Slope's Amy Sohn is a veritable celebrity 'round these blog parts--for better or for worse. She's been lauded here, she's been bitched out, but the facts are that she has an entire category of posts dedicated to her, a strong voice and byline in the Brownstone Brooklyn community commentary, and career as a writer to back up all the pissing, moaning, and noise she has to block out, whether it's coming from a Food Coop Meeting, a baby tambourine class, or on the comments of FiPS.
Yesterday, Sohn released Motherland, a follow-up to her widely-read (and hotly-debated) Prospect Park West, which satirized and tore apart our beloved Breederlyn as we know it. Oh, yeah, and there was a shit ton of sex and lying and crying babies, and also more sex. Motherland circles back to the ladies in PP Dubs to see if their lives and marriages are still as miserable and fucked up.
Because we can't resist a chat with Amy Sohn, or the opportunity to get a rise out of people, I talked to Sohn 'bout the new novel, some sexy stuff, and why she's just not listening to most of your opinions.
OK, let’s get the big one out of the way. You got a lot of shit for Prospect Park West for a number of reasons: basing characters off of real people, dramatizing situations, taking swipes at the ‘hood, being cliché, blah blah blah. What made you want to take a dive back into that world with Motherland, and did you have any of those comments in the back of your mind as you did?
Wait--basing characters on real people? Even the fictitious celebrities are my own fantasy version of them. The others were from my mind. I really wasn’t thinking of batshit crazy blogheads or easily offended moms when I wrote Motherland. How would I have been able to finish it otherwise? “I write for myself and for strangers” is how Gertrude Stein put it. I enjoyed the opportunity to dive back into the world, mainly so I could continue the characters’ stories a few years later. I wanted to catch up with them again.
As a life-long Brooklynite, do you take Brooklyn transplants who give you lip less seriously?
Thank you for asking that. Yes. I was here first. But a lot of other people were in Brooklyn before me, like my grandma. And guess what? There were even people here before her.
I find it amusing that non-native Brooklynites feel they own Brooklyn. Part of that is just full-out shame. No one wants to admit to being from various small American cities (or suburbs), so when asked, “Where are you from?” they answer “Brooklyn,” meaning that is where they now live with their families. I can actually say I am from Brooklyn. It’s a point of bonding. Technically, I was born in Manhattan, but I cabbed it to Brooklyn about 72 hours later.
Do you often watch Park Slope moments play out in front of you and say, “Holy shit. Book material. Right here.”, and do you feel like you navigate through the ‘hood as an outsider—or even something of an insider knowing you’re ostensibly taking notes as you go?
Absolutely--a couple arguing on a corner, the early morning off leash hours in Prospect Park, the kooky Slope types who tell a little kid, “Can you please move?” when there is so totally room for them to pass. I am in the world I write about, but in my role as a commentator and provocateur I am always removed at the same time (and everyone is terrified to tell a writer their secrets so I am also removed by default.) I am always on the outside and in the fringes, on the edge and off the avenue. I am Luka.
What kind of observations about animals in the wild—er, I mean, Park Slopers in their natural habitats—did you make for Motherland that you weren’t necessarily looking for when putting together PPW? Do you think you were harsher on people this time around or last time through?
Definitely the last time around. Karen really grows in this novel, Rebecca does too. A lot of the hubristic behavior in PPW goes punished in this novel and the characters are forced to become more humble due to their circumstances, some of which are due to their own choices. I recommend that people read Motherland first and then Prospect Park West.
Brooklynites are nortiously self-congratulatory for running away from the competition of Manhattan—you know, while we scrape and claw for spots in P.S. 321 and scandalize putting a child in the death trap of a Maclaren. There’s a lot of commentary on competition and status in Motherland; what do you think is actually going on with us in that regard?
It’s less conspicuous consumption than in the 10021 or 10028, but it’s consumption nonetheless. I laugh when I hear someone status-obsessed say, “I moved to Brooklyn because it’s so mellow here.” Mellow is relative.
Obviously I feel that competition and status obsession are detrimental to good parenting, but of course fall prey to both myself. I try to rein it in and think of that aphorism “Compare and despair.” Sometimes it works.
We go on and on about Park Slope being a horribly sex-starved place, and at times, feel like the only place people are even talking about getting it on is on this blog. Yet sex is the crux of your books--do you feel like Park Slope is really as sexually desolate as everyone thinks it is?
No! I have said before that just because I might not want to have sex with a man I pass on the street, doesn’t mean that person is not having sex! I think the great secret of Park Slope is that some of those totally attachment-oriented, co-sleeping, frazzled parents are creepin’ like crazy, just not at night and not in the bed. Disturbing but true. Others have sex when they leave Park Slope. Like right now, in August, thousands of babies are being conceived. That’s why you see so many babies in May and June. Their parents made them when they were on vacation.
If we’re all so, well, fucked up and fucked, what the hell can we do to stop being so awful? Because according to Amy, everyone’s kind of miserable and shitty. Do we stop having kids? Do we move to a sheep farm in Woodstock?
I don’t think everyone’s miserable and shitty. Motherland is a drama. Dramas revolve around people who have sturm und drang. If I hated the Slope I would move. I like it way more than I hate it.
But if you’re miserable HERE, I’m thinking maybe Jackson Heights, maybe Ridgewood, maybe Kensington, or Windsor Terrace. Or Hastings or Northampton.
Start your own planet. It has five laws. Write the constitution:
1. Address fraud punishable with jail time.
2. Online message boards do not exist.
3. When something pisses you off you must say so right away.
4. Alternate-side is suspended forever.
5. Dogs for everyone.
What’s next on the docket for Amy Sohn, Writer? And Amy Sohn, Park Slope Resident and Mom? And most importantly, how’s your ego feeling these days?
Working on a new novel for 2014, not about parents and not about Park Slope. My ego is pretty healthy because I’m staying on the Freedom app a lot and focusing on the upcoming book. I owe Fred Stutzman some therapy money.
As a mom I look forward to being in the Slope in the dog days when it is so easy to get a parking spot, running the hose in front of the building, and taking a few trips to Rockaway (when I’m not writing the new novel).
My message to you?
Think less about what everyone else is doing. Raise your kids the way you want to. Treat your spouse the way you want him to treat you. Don’t spew hate at home and in silence, do it old school New York style, in the moment and in the face.
Motherland's out now, y'all. BUY LOCAL 'N' SHIT.