Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Erin Pienaar’s fiction piece, The Dreams That You Dream
John: This story reminded me of Hanna Arendt’s remark about the banality of evil, that there are very few real villains in the world, just a bunch of regular people muddling through life, sowing suffering around themselves. And somehow, the narrator’s banality is one the things that makes this story so chilling—this person could be the woman next door, or someone who approaches us in the park. Was this one of the effects you set out to achieve in writing this story?
Erin: Yes it was and I’m so pleased by your observation. There are two stories I’ve always admired a lot—A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor and Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates. Both stories begin in a seemingly benign way, full of mundane details, but there’s this growing sense of unease and tension. Both those examples take it much further than I did and have a level of intensity I’m still aspiring to, but yes, disquieting ordinariness was the goal.
Why do terrible people make for so much better literature than good ones?
There are many sweet heroines that are dear to my heart and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice. However, there is something really intriguing about people behaving badly and there has certainly been a plethora of morally complex protagonists on TV and in literature. I think most people try to behave well in day-to-day situations so it’s interesting and sort of satisfying to watch a character violate the usual standards of behaviour.
One school of thought is that we act badly because we ourselves are unhappy, and that certainly seems to be the case with the main character early in the story. But even later, when things are going better for her, she can’t bring herself to offer any kindness to Paige. Is there anything, then, that might redeem her?
The visit from Paige gives the narrator a chance to reframe her actions into something positive but her jealousy and anger gets the better of her. And even though Nancy’s declining career gives her satisfaction, there’s always going to be someone else out there who has what she wants. So…probably not.
The old cliché is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this story, the narrator’s malevolence actually had a moderately good outcome. Can we then conclude that the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions?
I’m going to seize upon your word “intentions”. I think the intent of the characters contributes to their own personal heaven or hell. The narrator dwells on her failed dreams to the point of obsession and malice. Whereas Paige takes a very unsettling event, an impostor trying to trick her, and sees it as a sort of blessing and goes forward with a positive attitude.
How about Nancy? Does she ever get her career back on track?
Nancy had a larger presence in some of my earlier drafts – I think she’s the kind of person who draws satisfaction from music, whether she’s selling out large stadiums or playing at county fairs. I think she’ll keep making music. Whereas the narrator doesn’t pursue music in any way, not even for personal enjoyment—if she’s not successful than it’s not good enough for her.
John Haggerty is the founding editor of the Forge Literary Magazine.