An Interview with Lucienne S. Bloch
- By Vailes Shepperd
- August 15, 2023
The writer talks Vienna, scenic vocabulary, and existing in three dimensions.
Lucienne S. Bloch, the author of two novels, On the Great-Circle Route and Finders Keepers, tackles a different genre in her new book, Whistling in the Dark, crafting a series of rich, lyrical essays about everything from growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1950s as the daughter of refugees from Nazi Europe to her own development as a writer. I, for one, enjoyed reading them slowly, taking in all the new words and beautiful phrases and packing them into my memory.
How did you decide the order of the essays? Do you have a favorite?
My book is not a memoir, so the order of the separate essays isn’t necessarily linear as events in a life are, but I tried to put them in as chronological an order as I could. My favorite two are “What Is Left” and “365 Words a Year.” Which isn’t to say they are the most important or compelling ones.
Your inability to feel a sense of home in the U.S., compared to your mother’s strong feelings for Vienna, is telling. Do you believe this is the fallout from having immigrant parents with such a strong love of their own origins?
Yes, I do believe my sense of not really feeling at home in America is the result of my upbringing with parents who treasured the European cultures they lost.
I loved the story of your mother’s journey from Vienna to Singapore. How was it possible to describe it so vividly?
I have a photo of my mother in Singapore, described in the essay. And she constantly told stories about her early life in Vienna. Her allegiance to that city was unshakable. She was also a very vocal critic of Antwerp, where I was born.
You exist in three dimensions: your youngest self, your adult self, and your current self. I love the way you experience these individual selves so often.
Me in three dimensions is what the function of human memory is made for. And that threesome doesn’t always meet free of regrets.
At the end of “Inside Stories,” you write about the commiseration of women in the kitchen. It seems like a fading lifestyle. In fact, your wonderful lifestyle seems to belong to the past. Are your essays an attempt to reclaim lost territory?
My essays aren’t an attempt to reclaim life’s old territories; [they’re] more of an attempt to picture them and the recent past for contemporary and future readers.
We pull observations into our worlds, like Hemingway at the Closerie des Lilas. It’s an old habit, I think, and a good one. Throughout this collection, you use vocabulary-like scenes, and your vocabulary itself is scenic. Does that make sense?
Yes, I constantly stop to reassure myself that what I am writing about is not only interesting or important to me but will engage readers of my work. I believe that the language is what carries a reader forward, as it does the writer. I depend on words to hint at events, people, and places I hadn’t planned on recalling, much less [writing] about. This improvisational way of working is more difficult than having a through-line story in a novel or a memoir, but that’s how I do what I do.
Vailes Shepperd is the author of A Good Ending for Bad Memories and a former senior features editor at the Independent.