In your story of the week, “Evolution,” in 1980, a teen named Carla hitchhiked from New York to Arizona with her older boyfriend Brody, experiencing liberation and disappointment from her newfound sexual freedom . Looking back at the events of the story, the older Carla said “people believe in sex in a way they don’t fully believe anymore” and wondered, “Are we putting this idea into practice and exaggerating it?” One of the themes of your story is One is the existence (or nonexistence) of the idea of evolving sexual relationships across generations. Do you see any changes in the sexual dynamics of the world around you?
This story stems in part from reading a lot this spring about young heterosexuals (especially but not limited to women) being more sexually cautious, less sexually active, and more confused about the rules. (Also more worried about the effects of porn). Of course, this is a dramatic change from a time when freedom itself was praised. This is a very active and ongoing discussion.
What strikes me as fresh is that this most private and intimate experience has the effect of social assumptions – even though it’s just a human fact. We’re used to noticing this in every 19th century novel. In our age of accelerating change, we see celebrities face sexual misconduct allegations as standards shift, and any take on old TV shows — from “I Love Lucy” to the original “Sex and the City” — — both provide some examples of behavior that are now beyond recognition. Of course, I wanted to look at this in a more nuanced way and hear what Kara, who was 16 at the time, said to herself. She vowed to be strong and to be equal to everything that happened.
I often write about desires and cravings, which is a new way to understand how these elements shape a story.
Carla and Brody’s relationship wasn’t exactly abusive, but it wasn’t equal either. The story exists in a world before terms like “consent” may not have fully formed, with the older Carla admitting she “has other terms, other measures.” Do you think these words will help her?
Indeed, Carla didn’t object to most of what Brody did. She really wants to be adventurous—hitchhiking across the country is glamorous to her—and she’s not so refined about her investments. (When Brody told her they were going to sleep on the benches at the picnic table, she was sorry they wouldn’t be sharing a bed). By the time they reached their destination, his treatment of her was on the verge of humiliation, which she knew but tried to ignore. Having terms for what’s going on will give her categories of thoughts, ways of analysing errors, different judgments. It certainly saves her some trouble. (Gives me a different story.)
But terms can also be reductive. Every era has its own clichés, and they’re never enough for what really happens.
There’s a delicate balance between humor and heartbreak in your story; we can both laugh at Kara’s indifference or worry about her when she encounters a creepy driver or is taken advantage of by her boyfriend . Likewise, the narrator reflects on her later teenage adventures, finding both comedy and pathos in her former innocence. How did you manage this balance and how did you decide to put the story in retrospective mode?
I like to look back and cover a long time span. (I once wrote a book called The Art of Time in Fiction.) Here, a further perspective took me beyond what a 16-year-old might know. But what I focused on for most of the story was the strength of her theory about what she was doing. Young Carla had the idea (which had some merit) that her new life with a passion for sexual activity united her with the power of nature, of which she and Brody were “glowing beginners.” After all, she was pretty new to sex—she had been involved with two other boys a few times—and the power of business gave her an intuition for its spiritual power.
She didn’t express this to Brody, but Brody made the scathing comment when he recalled a pastor saying nature was “God’s way of showing us himself.” Brody pointed to the sweltering June heat in Tucson as a sign that nature wasn’t so good. I love the habit of young people to think openly about the world’s big issues, and I want to give these characters that.
The title of the story, “Evolution,” also relies on retrospectives. It was first mentioned when Cara proposed the idea that smoking marijuana is superior to drinking and represents evolutionary progress (often said in the 70s). She wondered later that the “thump, thump” mechanism of sexual intercourse satisfies an evolutionary need. Having her own daughter has allowed her to see a dramatic change in her attitude towards desire and freedom.
One of the things I like most about your story is that it captures a certain kind of youthful indifference, a willingness to put yourself in dangerous or uncomfortable situations in order to make life more interesting. In this story, there is a hint of how or not Kara will evolve from this instinct as an adult. Is there something specific about Cara’s age that motivates her to do something, or is it more of a characteristic of Cara herself?
We’re following Kara through key moments in her life as a body. In the beginning, she was showing off her body — showing off her dancing skills while rehearsing her future sexiness — and she managed to break a bone. Later, we see her become her own sexual being, proud of her adventurous spirit. The story takes another turn when death enters the story, her history with Brody is over, changing what it means to her. The mystery of the body is also the mystery of its dissipation, its impermanence. When she was younger, she half knew it—waiting in the bloody chaos of the emergency room—but the older Carla had already addressed her memory in this longer view.
The story begins and ends with a scene in the hospital where Kara breaks her tibia after showing it off to her childhood friend. How did that experience in the emergency room change her and lead her to her later explorations of love and desire?
This story is part of a novel I’ve been writing. The story begins with Carla sitting in the back of the emergency room with two young men. As Carla watched, a man took his dear friend, who had overdosed on heroin, to the hospital for help – and left him there alone. The length of the story (which this man has kept secret his whole life) is in the first chapter, but I also want to have its effect on the people who were there at the time; I’m always interested in the side effects of things. Seeing the betrayal, Cara draws the not-so-obvious conclusion that she will have to take care of herself for the rest of her life. About six years later, she ran away from home with her boyfriend, which had something to do with it. She took off and without worrying about her perfect good mother, she decided to expect herself to be able to handle everything that happened, a useful but not always accurate thought.