Francesca Lia Block changed the face of young adult publishing with her first novel, Weetzie Bat — a book that was mature (both in the “sophisticated” sense and the sense of mature themes) beyond anything else that was being published in the genre of children’s literature at the time, but never lost sight of its primary audience and never stopped being, at its heart, a book about a teenage girl. She’s influenced by imaginary realism writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeanette Winterson, as well as early film (think Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s) and the golden age of Hollywood. Weetzie is the tale of a girl whose father (a Jewish immigrant) became an effects man in Hollywood, and whose life starts off surreal and blossoms into a fountain of weirdness.
Her latest novel, Quakeland, is a departure both stylistically and thematically. While it retains Block’s surreality and manic, fragile beauty, Quakeland also plays with themes of broken lives, questioning, repentance — in other words, it’s perfect Rosh Hashana reading. It draws from recent American tragedies (the main characters’ names are Katrina and Grace) as well as people with premonitory dreams of 9/11, and domestic violence.
We spoke to Ms. Block about the new book, the New Year, and the nature of catastrophes…and how to derive hope from them.
We’re getting really close to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, where we’re supposed to be thinking about repentance, and apologizing to the people we done wrong — which has always seemed to trigger existential crises in the people around me. The past few years, it’s also seemed uncomfortably close to major catastrophes — like, as you talk about in Quakeland, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. What do you think of the relationship between society and self? Do you think it’s changing?
I think with all the upheaval in the world, and fears about the survival of the planet, we as individuals are internalizing much of this and learning how to go on even with this burden.
My six-year-old son often asks me when and if the planet is going to explode and if the sun can burn us up. I think this generation is experiencing the most potent anxiety, perhaps ever, but perhaps also the most consciousness.