Street Talk

Christine Sneed

Christine Sneed's second book, the novel Little Known Facts, was published in both the U.S. and the U.K. by Bloomsbury earlier this year. Her first book, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry (2010), won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, the Ploughshares Zacharis prize for a first book, and the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year award.  It was reissued recently in paperback by Bloomsbury. Christine lives in Evanston, Illinois, and teaches in the graduate writing programs at Northwestern University and Pacific University.

Points of Attraction: An interview with Christine Sneed


Braddock Avenue Books: Your novel, Little Known Facts, centers on a movie star and the impact that his celebrity has had on the lives of those closest to him. Several of your short stories, such as “The Prettiest Girls” and “Alex Rice Inc.,” are also centered on the troubled glamour of Hollywood. What draws you to write about celebrity culture? 

Christine Sneed: American culture, especially TV and film, is to some extent the world’s culture. I remember seeing American movies and TV shows everywhere the year I studied in France in college and being very surprised by this. As a result of our entertainment industry’s worldwide notoriety, I think our movie stars are elevated to an even higher astral plane than they would be if they were only known in the U.S. I find fame to be such an interesting topic because despite much evidence to the contrary (DUIs, drug addiction, divorce, for example), so many of us steadfastly belief that movie stars are very happy and live wholly enviable lives. 

BAB: The construction of the novel is untraditional: one chapter is the ostensible transcript of a recording Renn made of notes on his life, another notes from the memoir that Renn’s second wife is writing. Can you say something about your decision to be inventive with the structure? 

Sneed: I really like postmodern form, George Saunders’s stories, for example, and have taught fiction workshops that require students to include postmodern elements in their stories. The multiplicity of style and structure that’s possible with a little postmodern playfulness can be very enlivening, especially, at least in my case, when I’m writing longer form fiction. As for LKF, including an interview and excerpts from a memoir was a fun way to approach and vary point of view and voice.  

BAB: Little Known Facts is also told from multiple perspectives.  Much of the time I was reading, I was curious to know who would get the final say, as it were, on Renn and his family. What effect did you hope to achieve by having the final chapter narrated by Renn’s first wife?

Sneed: I think of Lucy Ivins, the character with the last say, so to speak, as the novel’s moral center. This is something Donna Seaman, the critic who wrote a review of Little Known Facts for Booklist, pointed out, and I definitely think she’s right. Lucy is the one character in the novel who isn’t making decisions likely to seriously disappoint or offend other characters. She has an intimate knowledge of several of the other POV characters’ lives and seemed like the right person to end with as I was writing the book. 

BAB: Much of your writing is focused on the effects that unequal relationships—in terms of age, income, or celebrity—have on the women who enter into them. In the novel, for instance, Renn’s daughter Anna enters into a relationship with an older, already married doctor at the hospital where she is completing her residency. Why do you think you return to these power dynamics so frequently in your work?

Sneed: One of the most interesting aspects of desire is what initially attracts one person to another, and I think that many times it’s a lot more complicated than someone being handsome or pretty. Especially as we get older (and, I hope, wiser.) Many women find older, powerful men—intellectually and/or financially—more appealing than younger men who might be more handsome or fit, but because the younger men don’t have the same confidence or magnetism of an older, more experienced man, they’re ultimately not as interesting.  Money certainly is an aphrodisiac for some, but I’m not very interested in writing about gold diggers. I’m more curious about two intelligent people with different backgrounds—social, economic, etc.—coming together. I try to believably portray why they are interested in each other, and what it is about their characters that might eventually cause them trouble as a couple. Infatuation, sexual attraction, those early sparks, can only sustain a relationship for so long.

BAB: Considering these previous questions about theme, structure, and point-of-view, what writers or works have most influenced your style and interests as a writer?

Sneed: Deborah Eisenberg and John Updike have had a lot of influence on my writing.  I mentioned George Saunders earlier.  He has too, though Little Known Facts isn’t much like any of his work, though over the last several years, I’ve published a number of satirical short stories that I’m sure were influenced by my familiarity and admiration for his work. Alice Munro too and Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge is a book I really love, and structurally, I think it’s a close cousin of Little Known Facts.