We caught up with Jen Logan Meyer, whose story “Stop.” is published in the Summer 2019 issue. The Review also published her story “Slide” in Spring 2017. Meyer, a 2018 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and lectures in the College Writing Program. We spoke to Meyer about the parallels between these two pieces, her characters’ fascination with objects, and the sixteenth century’s version of Instagram.
SR: In “Stop.” the reader’s experience is often mediated by the objects that permeate Mark’s, the main character’s, life. Do you believe the objects we possess say more about ourselves and our relationships than we think?
Meyer: We need not look further than our Instagram feeds to understand how powerfully objects communicate. Certainly, this is not a new concept—in the sixteenth century, curiosity cabinets exhibited the owner’s worldliness. Instead of drawing room furniture, today we encounter your cousin’s table set with a bottle of small-batch bourbon, two fingers-worth poured in a pair of vintage old-fashioned glasses (one bears coral lip prints), next to which sit a pair of Oliver Peoples tortoise rim glasses turned upside down, temple tips crossed like legs. You get it. Your cousin is a hipster baller.
But there’s no denying the feelings of envy that some of these Architectural Digest-quality photos can conjure—the people who live in these meticulously composed rooms, well, their lives are better than our own. Similarly for Mark, the objects he notices suggest both a certain luxury and a lifestyle that’s unattainable for him. Mark may initially describe the Walters’ furnishings and décor as garish, but by the time the reader gets to the cascade of all the reasons he was drawn to Shauna in the first place, I tried to make clear that his intimate proximity to the George Nelson lamp and the Eames recliner—as with Shauna herself—makes the end of things all that much more painful. And he, in the aftermath of that loss, all that more desperate.
SR: “Slide,” which appeared in our Spring 2017 issue, and “Stop.” feature characters that collect abandoned objects. Is there some significance in these characters’ shared fascination with the discarded?
Meyer: Absolutely—but the significance stems more from similarities rather than with their differences. In both stories, the discarded objects were discovered by children, who delight in the finding of them, despite being ripped out of their original and intended contexts—in “Slide,” an unidentifiable plush toy; in “Stop.,” the clock’s detached toadstools and milkmaids in a heap of broken bits in a trash bag. Children are always seeing what adults don’t—they immediately recognize the sheer beauty of these discarded items, or the opportunity to repurpose them. In both stories, the discarded objects become talismans. I’ve always been interested in precocious children who act like seers in literature, from Dickens’s Jenny Wren to Capote’s Miriam, and far too many in Joy Williams’s work to mention. The pivotal moments in both narratives are spurred by children, with these resuscitated objects at the center. In “Stop.” they eventually give Mark a great deal of trouble.
SR: “Slide” was written from a child’s point of view, “Stop.” from an adult’s perspective. Did these choices change your writing process?
Meyer: Writing from a child’s perspective, particularly a coming-of-age preteen wrestling with her girlhood, has been my go-to protagonist for a long time. But I’ve always been drawn to the well-trodden territory of suburban malaise, and I felt compelled to center “Stop.” on a man’s experience. Before I discovered women who write suburban fiction—like A. M. Holmes or Antonya Nelson—the writers who initially turned the lights on for me in this genre were Cheever, Updike, Carver, and the rest of the boys. I might have had Neddy Merrill from “The Swimmer” in my head. But there was never a question that the protagonist would be anyone other than a man, and to subvert that tradition a bit, I wanted Mark to be the jilted lover.
I do think it was a very interesting editorial decision to have “Stop.” follow Lea Carpenter’s remarkable and moving story “Candy Cane” in the summer issue. Two stories that each feature a male protagonist reflecting on loss and its aftermath, both written by women. Both remark on the tedium of domestic routines, the banality of this time in their lives, and (presumably) sexless marriages.
And, pertinent to your first question, both stories emphatically focus on luxury objects and possessions and the inevitability that these things always—always—fail to protect us. I have to think that that’s not a coincidence.