JH: To what extent do you think the brotherly relationship in “New Baby” is accurate? Why is being brothers so awkward?
JK: “Accurate” is a funny term to use about fiction, I think. I don’t know the extent to which these brothers can be considered “representational,” but I definitely think that what’s going on between them is true: I wouldn’t have been interested in writing them as characters, if not. Or, I might have written them for, like, calisthenic purposes, but I wouldn’t have shown anyone. I’m not concerned enough with language or all the other trappings of creative writing to expend energy on fiction where it doesn’t feel like each character is me to a certain extent—and that includes everyone in the story: Jess with her ulterior charm and even the departing significant others whose personalities are glimpsed second-hand here but who are every bit as real and human, to me at least, as Sol and Ty.
If there’s anything inaccurate, it may have to do with the ages at which these two dudes are having their crises. I started writing Ty when I was 18, and there’s definitely some of the same shiftlessness in him that I was going through at that time, but it hardened up a little in him as I revised—both because of the editing process itself, and because in the past four years I’ve matured a lot as well. Ty and Rebecca began as surrogates for my dad and step-mom, although they evolved as characters a lot in the revision process also. The reason I tell you this is because every impulse I was interested in delving into in “New Baby”—every awkward interaction, every instance of silent revulsion—are all impulses I’ve experienced and catalogued, with my brother or my father or with friends. And maybe it was a little bit of hubris that made me think I get to put my 18-year-old emotions onto characters who are much older, but I also know I’ve seen men in their 40s and 50s who haven’t yet confronted these impulses, and—fuck it—I’ve spent a lot of time and energy considering it—objectively, to the extent that one can—and I think I deserve a little of my hubris (or else, again, I wouldn’t have written the story).
Obviously I haven’t met and interviewed all the brothers in the world, but I know that there’s a funny thing that I’ve tended to see brothers (and even fathers and sons) do, and it’s something along the lines of “love unconditionally, while stiff-arming any glimmer of vulnerability.” And I’m not sure if it’s necessary for me to argue that this means that homosocial relationships between men tend to be lacking. I like to think that, assuming Sol is an “accurate” character, that he does the talking for me—not in monologue obviously, but in his actions. There’s virtually always going to be a sort of tension between brothers—regardless of their love, they have, after all, spent their lives competing—and it becomes really hard for brothers to, you know, “talk about feelings.” I don’t want to get too theoretical, but I think there are some weird biological things at play here, including (most polemically) a titch of subconscious homophobia. When I say homophobia, I literally mean fear and not disgust—and it’s not at all a fear of homosexuals, but this sort of overly neurotic fear, in heterosexual dudes, that if you’re too vulnerable in your relationships with men, that you’re opening a sort of romantic door in that relationship that you may not want to be opening (with brothers and fathers, there’s the added consideration of incest). I know that this “stiff-arming impulse” engenders a lot of shittiness toward homosexuality in less self-aware guys (and the brothers in “New Baby” are definitely not the most self-aware characters, but then who wants to read that? It’d just be a guy explaining his reasoning for everything), but I think it’s important to say that the fear that you’ll be misinterpreted as gay isn’t always evil or disapproving of homosexuality. It can be merely a pragmatic thing. It doesn’t offend me when a cute girl at the bar asks if I’m gay, but if I’m into her, it will bum me out a little, because it means I was totally off her sexual radar. Ty is so afraid he’ll be mistaken for gay that he swears to a room full of no one he’s not. And I don’t think Ty’s evil at all. So the tension, the avoidance of vulnerability is there between these brothers, and then an outside agent—here it’s the old standard, alcohol—is introduced that allows the brothers (Sol openly, Ty personally) to release a little of that necessary vulnerability. At its heart, I think this isn’t a manifesto on broken romantic relationships or man-children and all the stupid shit they do to themselves. It’s about how men need a steamvalve sometimes in their relationships with other men.