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Deep Connections Link The Stories In 'Louisa Meets Bear'


There's a reason that six degrees of Kevin Bacon became a global phenomenon because at our core, we humans crave connection to one another and discovering an unexpected link that makes strangers feel less strange delivers a certain kind of delight. That sensation is sprinkled throughout Lisa Grornick's new novel. It is called "Louisa Meets Bear." Lisa Gornick joins me now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

LISA GORNICK: Thank you, Rachel. I'm delighted to be here.

MARTIN: Before we talk about how this book is constructed, these stories and characters who all relate to one another, can you just introduced us to the two main protagonists, Louisa and Bear? Who are they?

GORNICK: Louisa is the daughter of a molecular geneticist who has been more absorbed in his work than his family. And she's led a cultivated, upper-middle-class life. And during her first year - actually her second year at Princeton, Louisa meets Bear, who basically tracks her down. And he's the son of a plumber from Cincinnati who's come to Princeton on an athletic scholarship. And he's totally smitten by Louisa. And they begin a relationship that becomes tortured for both of them when Louisa falls into an affair with what her best friend Corrine calls one of those too-dangerous-to-resist guys. They separate. They move, both of them, into other relationships. And then, after four years apart, they resume on different but equally-problematic terrain with Bear working as a Wall Street trader and Louisa an impoverished graduate student.

MARTIN: And from their love story, you then spin out stories of other characters. What was it about Louisa and Bear that you felt could provide the grounding for other vignettes in the book?

GORNICK: In the end, it's not another man who pulls them apart, but a tragedy in Louisa's best friend Corrine's life during which their immutable differences rear its head in a really ugly way. So through these characters, we then reverberate into other characters, the people that they ultimately marry, Corrine's life and their own families of origin.

MARTIN: How did you map all this out? I mean, does this just happen in your head or do you use Post-it notes, move them on a wall? How do you do this?

GORNICK: (Laughter) I really - I started with the idea of putting together a collection of short stories. And there were originally two sets of stories that were linked internally to one another, but the others weren't related. And as I was rereading - I was repeating the stories in the order in which they'd been written - and they'd been written over 20 years - I was struck by how, on some deep level, It felt as though they were connected, as though the characters could have been siblings or childhood friends or ex-lovers. And I thought why not see? What if that's actually the case? But once I started making the links, there was just no going back. All of the stories felt so enriched. It was a bit like visiting the childhood home of a close friend when suddenly everything that's been mysterious about your friend, you start to get clues about.


GORNICK: And the challenge for me was to not get madcap about it - to not go overboard so everybody was connected to everybody else like a cheesy thriller.

MARTIN: This is also a book about lives that could have been, paths not taken. Do you think about that in your own life? Is that a healthy thing to do? Is that a debilitating process in some way?

GORNICK: Well, I don't think that the most useful thing is regret. I think the most useful thing is to try to have self-knowledge, and I guess that's not a surprise given that my earlier career was as a psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist. But Louisa, over the course of the years of the book, comes to have insight into herself.

MARTIN: Because you were a psychoanalyst, does that mean when you are mapping out a character, do you delve into their inner life, into their consciousness in a way that perhaps never even makes it on the page, but it's something that you work out in your head?

GORNICK: I really do, Rachel. I have to admit that I almost right case studies for each of my characters. I cannot begin to write until I feel like I really understand this person, and sometimes that means going back generations. It means understanding the influences of their grandparents, on their parents and their parents on them, what their dreams are, who their childhood friends were, whether there was anyone who bullied them, what they look like. Now, most of that never makes it onto the page. And then just as happens in a psychotherapy process, the real learning comes when you put the character on the page in interaction with other characters. So that's when I really get to understand my characters.

MARTIN: The novel is called "Louisa Meets Bear." It is written by Lisa Gornick. Thanks so much for talking with us, Lisa.

GORNICK: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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