Huge. Upstate New York is a place of high mountains and glacial lakes, and that really manifests itself in the internal landscape of the people. The land here is hot and flat and sandy, and that manifests itself in people, too. It took me a good five years just to like living in Gainesville. Then I started reading all sorts of books by Florida writers, and it showed me the way to love the state.
It’s the middle of winter here. Is there anything you miss about the cold?
I miss the cold desperately. My entire family lives in New Hampshire now, and when we go on vacation, we do the opposite of everyone else who heads south. I recently received a fellowship at Harvard, so I’ll be in the cold there, and I’ll have my own puffy jacket. For years, I didn’t even have a coat—I had to rely on my mom’s old ski jacket from 1983.
Will you wear your mom’s ski jacket to Indianapolis?
Likely. And about 18 layers of long underwear.
You’ve written both novels and short stories. Which is your favorite format?
I love them both for different reasons. The novel is like a house you live in for years and years, and you get to know every single part of it. It can drive you crazy and make you cry a lot, but it’s a long-term relationship. I may carry a short story around in my head for years until it’s ready to come out. Maybe I’ll read something or see or hear something that suddenly gives me the key to the story.
It’s tough to find a reviewer who doesn’t like you. How does it feel to be so widely praised?
I don’t read many of my reviews. I try really hard to stay away from that, because ego is the thing that kills the work. Also, I have anxiety issues, so even reading a pleasant review fills me with existential dread.
But surely you knew that Barack Obama liked your book?
You couldn’t hide from that one. You can hope for things like being published and maybe winning a prize, but you can’t hope for the President of the United States to read your book, let alone like it. So of course it was a beautiful surprise, and it meant a lot to me. Just that he cared enough about the human heart and about other people’s experiences to read fiction made me tear up.