• 3Q4: Lydia Conklin


    I had the pleasure of discussing “On the Sound” with author Lydia Conklin, whose story appears in our Winter 2023 print issue. When I first encountered Conklin's writing, I was taken by their entangled renderings of labor, value, and morality. In this brief conversation, Conklin dissects the crude intersection between class consciousness and self-doubt. 

    —Luke Gair, Assistant Editor

    LG: Your story centers on Nick, an aspiring latte artist, who finds himself on a lavish weekend getaway alongside some of Manhattan’s young and stupid-rich. What initially led you to set this story on the coast of the Long Island Sound? How does the locale intensify or complicate the narrative stakes for this cast of characters?

    LC: I used to live in New York when I was about that age, and I remember getting invited to the homes of friend’s families that were within driving distance of the city but felt like a million miles away. It only happened a couple times, but it was breathtaking to be part of this whole other world of beach and green and fancy homes that was unimaginable from where I normally stood in my cockroach-ridden apartment with a window on the airshaft that I shared with two other people. New York City is a place where, if you don’t have a ton of money, it’s very, very hard to live, a place where the stratification of wealth is so evident, so I wanted to explore that through Nick’s experience.

    LG: Early on, Nick contrasts his socioeconomic standing with that of his acquaintances: “But even if he’d only risen in the coffee world, who was to say that was any worse a theater than banking or parentally funded do-gooding?” I’m taken by Nick’s need to curb his own insecurity through scrutinizing the capacity of others—it’s as if he is pacifying himself. From the moment he first sits down for dinner, do you think Nick is more often at odds with himself or his surroundings?

    LC: I think Nick is definitely getting in his own way, and that’s the crux of his character. He has all these delicately-held rules for himself, these kinds of ascetic beliefs that he ties into being a good person or winning at life or whatever, when really many of his actions are morally neutral. And I think you’re right that it all comes back to his insecurities. I tried to put him in a situation where his personal systems would get shaken up and disrupted as much as possible, to see how that would jar him and push on him.

    LG: After a meal of rubbery lobster tails and Adderall, the group relents to pressure from the weekend’s host, Ace, to play a game of Sardines. Nick is then left with the role of seeker. How did it occur to you to get the characters to play this game? Did it present a new or unexpected avenue for the story you were telling?

    LC: I thought a game would be interesting to activate the party. First of all, I think it works emotionally because of the time of life of the people in this milieu. They are adults, but not really, still kids, but not really, kind of playacting adulthood, so it makes sense they would indulge in a child’s game and then also take it too seriously and let it go too far, and that cruelties would slip in as they were playing. It also lent the story a certain structure, letting Nick play the roles of seeker and then hider to see how he conforms to the rules of this social group that’s outside his comfort zone.

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