Lisa Taddeo: ‘I suppose it comes as no surprise that I like dark writing’


Show caption Lisa Taddeo: ‘Kathy Acker opened my brain in a way that I thought only drugs could.’ Photograph: Benedict Evans/The Observer Books that made me Lisa Taddeo: ‘I suppose it comes as no surprise that I like dark writing’ The novelist on the influence of Joy Williams, giving up on Norman Mailer and finding comfort in William Trevor’s short stories Lisa Taddeo Fri 16 Jul 2021 10.00 BST Share on Facebook

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The book that changed my life

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg is a better book to read for expectant mothers than What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff. It flays open the notion of motherhood, personhood. Ginzburg’s husband was arrested for editing an anti-fascist magazine in Rome, and died after intense torture in jail. There’s a moment where she describes the way a child will eat fruit after grief that I think of weekly.

The book I wish I’d written

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin accurately captures that great gnawing fear that comes with motherhood. I read this book the morning after my birthday. My child was two and I had my first proper hangover since having a child. I read it and felt as if my heart was being cleaved from my body. I felt the truest fear of motherhood – that we are only one terrifying moment away from losing our children.

Samanta Schweblin captures that great gnawing fear that comes with motherhood

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing

Joy Williams’s The Visiting Privilege. Williams has looked over the edge and seen what wild darkness there is to see, and she has come back to write it down for us. I suppose it comes as no surprise that I like dark writing, like Williams’, which seems to start in the grave and tunnel downwards.

The book I think is most underrated

Anything by Grace Paley. She is a gift of a voice and and someone I wish children would read in school.

The book that changed my mind

Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker didn’t so much change me as it opened my brain in a way that I thought only drugs could.

The last book that made me laugh

Luster by Raven Leilani. This line: “A waitress wearing a ten-gallon hat tosses a couple of sticky menus on the table. She tells us the specials in such a way that we know our sole responsibility as patrons in her section is to just go right ahead and fuck ourselves.” No one working today writes a cornucopia sentence like Leilani.

The last book that made me cry

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. A mother leaves her two young daughters for two years. Then she comes back for them. But that isn’t even the plot. That is a few lines we get halfway through. Ferrante is so smart she knows the real story is told in a few sharp blows. The rest can be air around it, and will tell us everything we need to know.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read


The book I give as a gift

I would give A Grace Paley Reader to a high-school graduate or a grandmother with equal confidence that they would each love it.

My earliest reading memory

I don’t remember if it was The Secret Garden or Lois Duncan – God, she was great! – but pretty soon after, I was into Stephen King and VC Andrews and John Saul, and just wild and dark from the start.

My comfort read

William Trevor’s stories, like Alice Munro’s, are real: they are about life and violins and they have beginnings and middles and ends and make you cry and smile and suffer. I bring Trevor with me everywhere.

• Animal by Lisa Taddeo is published by Bloomsbury (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.