Thisbe Nissen On Thisbe
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
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.