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Episode 374: Emma Copley Eisenberg

BY MEGAN LABRISE • May 28, 2024

Emma C. Eisenberg’s assured debut explores making love and art in America.

On this episode of Fully Booked, Emma Copley Eisenberg discusses her debut novel, Housemates (Hogarth, May 28), in which two young queer artists join creative forces on a heartland road trip. “Emotionally rich and quietly thought-provoking, this is simply a stunning fiction debut,” Kirkus writes in a starred review.

Eisenberg is the author of The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia—a work of narrative nonfiction nominated for an Edgar Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and an Anthony Award, among other honors. She is a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at Wesleyan University and co-founder of Blue Stoop, a community hub for the literary arts.

Here’s a bit more from our starred review of Housemates: “This novel begins with a middle-aged photographer describing a lengthy bout of depression and isolation with oblique—but very telling—references to how the death of her ‘housemate’ factored into her sense of despair. When she finally reemerges, she encounters ‘two white kids’ in a coffee shop and follows them home. Then this unnamed observer disappears—for a while—as she tells the story of Bernie and Leah. Within a handful of pages, Eisenberg establishes her novel’s central themes and the context in which this narrative is taking place. The physical setting is Philadelphia, although Leah and Bernie will embark on a road trip that takes them through central Pennsylvania—a place that is very much itself while also serving as synecdoche for flyover America. The 2016 presidential election and the Covid-19 pandemic offer temporal touchstones. Shifting mores around sexuality and gender, the complicated demands of social justice movements, how we deal with bad people who create good art, and the difference between recording and actually seeing are just some of the topics Eisenberg lays out before setting her Gen Z protagonists loose to explore them.…Eisenberg has a poet’s eye for truth, and her prose is gorgeously precise and empathetic while remaining cleareyed.”

Eisenberg and I begin with the mysterious speaker of the novel’s intriguing opening lines. We discuss the characters the narrator observes in a coffee shop—Bernie and Leah—who become the foci of the book. We talk about Leah’s desire, as a journalist and a person, to try to understand others’ perspectives; and the dearth of positive depictions of fat bodies in fiction. We explore what America means, conceptually, to Eisenberg, and Philadelphia as an American city. She tells me about art critic Elizabeth McCausland and photographer Bernice Abbott, who provided some real-life inspiration for Leah and Bernie. We ponder how to identify Housemates (e.g., complicated fiction? not-nothistorical fiction?), and why the word Sapphic seems to be popping up in every other publicity pitch this season. We chat about Blue Stoop, teaching art, and a whole lot more.

Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, and Eric Liebetrau share their top picks in books for the week.

 

EDITORS’ PICKS:

Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illus. by Tom de Freston (Union Square Kids)

Joyful Song: A Naming Story by Lesléa Newman, illus. by Susan Gal (Levine Querido)

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson (Crown)

 

ALSO MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:

Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by Janine Di Giovanni

War Diary by Yevgenia Belorusets, trans. by Greg Nissan

 

THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:

Be the Weight Behind the Spear by Dr. Josh McConkey

The 80/20 CEO: Take Command of Your Business in 100 Days by Bill Canady

The Red Widow by T. Castle Furlong

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

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