Thisbe Nissen On Thisbe Nissen
(Responding to Nonsense by Pitchaya Sudbanthad)
Thisbe Nissen’s recent book Osprey Island takes place at an island hotel as the Chizeks prepare to open up for the crucial summer season. On hand are a bitter daughter, seductive Irish girls and eager college boys, a homecoming draft dodger, and Lance and Lorna Squire and their young son Squee. When a tragedy at the hotel reveals long kept secrets, everyone’s past and future come into question.
Thisbe was given a few topics and some starter words. This is what she said.
On Island Resorts
The beach reminds me of "The Beach," that terrible movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, who makes me think of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," that wonderful movie with the other Leonardo DiCaprio, before he was "Leo," before Giselle, before "Ninnies of New York" and Cameron Diaz, before he was ostensibly a beefcake, before he was a star, when he was still an actor--a skinny, unselfconscious, brilliant actor. When I first saw "Gilbert Grape" I honestly didn't know if that Leonardo DiCaprio actor-guy was actually developmentally disabled or not, that's how good I thought he was. Turns out he's developmentally disabled in another way entirely: unable since then to play a role as earnestly, and honestly, and with full use and command of his skills as an actor. Which is so disappointing. I fucking loved that movie--Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen... Hell, who even remembers that Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly are in that movie?! And here's something that's interesting to me in particular: you start a fill-in-the-blanks about the beach and I bring it almost immediately to a film set in Iowa, about as far from the beach as you can get in this country. Although Peter Hedges, (who wrote "Gilbert Grape," which as I recall was good book as well), also wrote a novel called "An Ocean in Iowa." Which brings us back to the beach...
On Irish Girls
If I'd known what I know now I'd have had Bud Chizek [the owner of the Lodge in Osprey Island] import the damn housekeeping girls from Des Moines and dispensed with their Irish accents altogether since I can't do the accent well enough to read from sections of the book in which Brigid or Peg say anything at all, which kind of limits what I can read aloud. If I get myself into the brogue state of mind, then I can sort of do it, but I can't manage switching back and forth, so I have to either read it ALL Irish or no Irish, both of which sound ridiculous. Which is to say: think before you accent!
On Consequential Events
The night was great and fun until someone lost an eye.
On Domesticated Animals
The cats can't seem to leave the voles alone. Everyday I come into the living room, and there's Fern, licking her paws, a disembodied vole head lying on the rug beside her. What's a vole, you ask? Like a mouse, but with a pointier nose. And I've got to assume they're tastier too, since the cats seem to want to play with the mice more than eat them; once they're dead they lose interest. But these voles--man!--they just wolf those suckers down. Last night I stepped on--with bare feet!--the hindquarters of a mutilated vole, lying on the floor like the back half of a mouse costume for some kid's school play. A very tiny kid's school play.
So here's what I have to say: domesticated my ass! These cats are huntresses! Have you ever heard the noise a rabbit makes when it's under attack? It sounds more like a mallard duck. In heat! (Do ducks go into heat?) We've been burying baby bunnies here like regular morticians! We've saved some too... although it's hard to tell baby bunnies apart--the ones we saved may well be the same ones later murdered.
We did save a bird though. It was Maisie who'd grounded that one, hurt its wing. We caught it in a towel, drove it to the animal shelter. It wasn't a baby--baby birds they can't save--so we thought it might have a chance, with proper medical attention, and rehabilitation, physical therapy. When we handed it over to the uniformed animal control guy behind the desk I asked what they would do to it and he looked me straight on and said flatly, "We'll do whatever's best for the bird, ma'am." I hate it when they call me "ma'am." Makes me feel matronly.
See above. And see this.
On Eccentric Personalities
The crazy writer in this house goes by the name of Lee Klein. I mean, I'm not the one writing about hyper-fertile women and autofellators whose beard-nits hatch into tiny little ladies. I write realistic narrative fiction, by god. And I'm well medicated.
There was a boy named Squee at summer camp who was my little boyfriend for a while when I was twelve. His last name was Squire, and everyone called him Squee. I won his affections away from another girl in my cabin after I did an interpretive dance at the talent show to Flashdance's "What a Feeling," wearing a black off-the-shoulder sweatshirt with turquoise glitter hearts and matching black and turquoise reversible acrylic legwarmers. Squee's father had gone to our camp years before and I believe he'd been called Squee as well. Then Squee's little brother came to camp and everyone called him Little Squee. I feel like maybe there was another even littler brother, but maybe by the time he made it to camp the other two had gone, so he was the only one around and could go by just Squee instead of having to be Littlest Squee, or Baby Squee, or Squee III.
The image of those vole hindquarters, and the feel of them against the tender skin of my bare foot, is not something I will easily forget, nor cease to shudder over any time soon.
On Controlled Wilderness
In my garden there are sunflowers twice as tall as Lee Klein, who's pretty damn tall, and twelve varieties of tomatoes, and eight kinds of peppers, and five types of beets, and green beans, and volunteer acorn squash and pumpkins sprouted from the compost pile, and lettuce, and broccoli rabe, collards and kale, and cilantro and basil, and spearmint for mojitos, and dill, and sorrel that won't go away, and oregano I can't manage to convince to stay, and marigolds to keep the critters off the veggies, and snakes snaking under the straw mulch, and snapdragons, and cosmos, and purple coneflowers, purple bellflowers, two shades of fuschia-fleshed wild roses past their prime, and Lee's plant he picked out at the Coral Fruit Market 50% Off Sale which we think is sedum, and black-eyed Susans, and joe pie weed, and hollyhocks, and malva, and copious amounts of invading wormwood, and new rose of sharon bushes already blooming, and lilac trees, and concord grape vines, and baby's breath, and dame's rocket, and crazy daisies, and crazy-tall orange lilies with purple polka dots, and meadow sage and lavender and chamomile, and there were peas, both snap and snow, but they're finished now, and black raspberries but they're done for the season too, and so's the asparagus, and also the strawberries, but, man, were they good while they lasted.
Thisbe Nissen is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. A native of New York, she now lives, writes, gardens, and collages in Iowa City, Iowa. Aside from Osprey Island, she has written Out of the Girl’s Room and into the Night , The Good People of New York, and The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook.
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