On Tuesday, the Boston.com Book Club sat down (virtually, of course) with author Makenna Goodman to delve into her debut novel, “The Shame,” during a live stream discussion moderated by Still North Books & Bar owner Allie Levy. Throughout the event, Goodman revealed her inspiration for the book, meditated on why we read, and delved into the internet as a false refuge—fielding questions from Levy and the audience along the way.
Here’s a recap of the discussion below, and you can watch the full recording here.
Much of real life is imagined
Goodman explained that the idea for her novel came about while reading a book about psychoanalytic theory. She stumbled upon an analysis of the classical Greek Myth of Eros and Psyche, which paralleled the story with a woman coming into her own awareness—latched onto the theory that each character symbolized different projections of a woman’s own psyche. This sparked Goodman’s realization that each of our lives can be seen as a story, able to be written in our minds through the lens of our own imagination. “Much of real life is, in fact, imagined,” says the author. This duality between what is reality and what is simply constructed truth was something Goodman was interested in exploring through her debut novel.
As readers, we are not ‘blank slates’
Goodman explains that, despite what some writers might think, readers are never a blank slate. We all “come to literature from our own inherent bias,” looking to understand ourselves on a deeper level and see our lives reflected on the page. At the end of their journey from cover to cover, a reader hopes for transformation and, most of all, an answer to the burning questions within them.
We can laugh through darkness
Through her writing, Goodman seeks to explore the rift between what we want and what we think we want, perhaps giving readers a way to pick apart these wants so they aren’t so nebulous. When it’s brought up in the live discussion that some readers viewed her book as humorous, Goodman said that she wants to parse through the “dark and hard to understand questions in life,” and laugh while doing so. Goodman said there is a balance between lifting up readers’ minds and entertaining them and value lies in both.
Goodman wanted to explore privilege that cannot see itself
Levy mentions that “The Shame” has been called the prefect pandemic novel, likely because it deals with feelings of isolation and the need to escape. And while Goodman somewhat understands the delineation, she also acknowledges that the main character, Alma, she presents in the novel and the place she writes from is one of privilege—that while we are all perhaps more aware of life’s transience nowadays, we are not dealing with the same set of circumstances—especially when it comes to the racial tensions coming to a head in our country.
One event attendee submitted a live question and asked why Goodman chose to make her protagonist a privileged woman. Besides stating that she writes what she knows as a white woman herself, Goodman explains that—through Alma—she portraits the type of privilege that cannot see itself, the type of person that moves through life absolved. She reminds us all that it’s not good enough to simply acknowledge privilege and hold up a mirror to oneself, but to also take action.
The author also explains her decision behind an iconic scene toward the end of the novel involving a croissant and the woman Alma idolizes from Instagram. Goodman said she chose the pastry because of the prevalent Francophilia among wealthy white women—glamorizing a culture that supposedly encompasses skinny women who are effortlessly beautiful with well-behaved, sophisticated children.
We all mother ourselves
In the book’s first few pages, Alma likens motherhood to carrying a backpack full of stones. Goodman is a mother herself, but insists that the metaphor can apply to all people: “We are all mothering ourselves,” she said. The author notes a psychological theory she discovered, saying that we all carry a version of our childhood selves on our backs, so to speak, usually at an age where we became “fixed” or experienced trauma. We comfort and sooth this part of us when it acts up and that is an act of mothering, regardless of a person’s gender or if they have physical children.
The internet is a false refuge
Before the discussion concluded, Goodman introduced us to the notion of social media as a false refuge, meaning: We visit the internet to seek some sort of fulfillment, joy, or a safe space that we supposedly can choose ourselves. But with search engines, social media platforms, and other sites tracking us across the web and curating the content we see, it’s not possible “to be safe or contented,” Goodman said. Instead, we get locked on the way to finding our true refuge which she said could be something as simple as going outside and noticing your garden—taking in all the good you have cultivated there and in your own life.