We recently published Anu Kanidkuppa’s amazing “Underneath It All.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love, love, love how this story moves from the surface to the depths — from appearances to inner workings. That ending just sends me soaring! Was it difficult to balance the observational with the emotional here?
I always find it challenging to suggest the deeper meaning of a piece in a way that seems neither contrived and obvious nor too subtle and vague, and this story was no exception. (I sometimes think—how easy if I could simply state what I want to say!) As you might imagine, a party I attended sparked the idea for this piece. I probably started writing the observational details first (which I gathered by being anti-social and sitting in a corner and just taking in everything), and then thought about why these details were interesting to me—mined my feelings about them. Then I played around with the words a lot and hoped it worked. There are so many constraints—tension, flow, length. Wanting to be a little fresh, a little new. The short length of a flash piece makes it harder, of course.
2) The little glimpses into each of the characters reveal so much about them (I adore that line where the American hostess is puzzled by another mother’s reference to other countries — ” Were there other countries in the world?”). Do you think, when these women look at each other, they only see the differences? Or do the see the sameness that they hold within themselves?
The women in the story are bound together loosely by the fact that their children studied together. At the same time, they don’t know each other or the hostess well. I think they walk in feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable to various degrees, not to mention throbbing with anxiety about their soon-to-depart children. A crowded house party is never a good setting to meet new people. You gather quick first impressions—accents, dress, superficialities—and move on to the next person. It takes effort and, I think, composure and open-mindedness to make connections, but in the course of the evening at least some women—maybe those who tend to choose deeper conversations with fewer people over flitting around—leave feeling allied with another woman.