Katie Crouch is restoring our faith in fiction. Her debut novel, Girls in Trucks, packs all the punch of a real, live Gen X memoir—but get this, it never happened.
In the book, former debutante Sarah Walters leaves Charleston behind for the wide world of alcohol abuse, dead-end careers and unfulfilling relationships in Manhattan. It's a quick read full of taut prose and compassionate humor, and it even boasts something of a twist ending. Read the full review here.
WW caught up with Crouch—herself a displaced Charlestonian—to talk about stalking ex-boyfriends, killing off fathers, and writing heinous bitches.
WW: OK, Girls in Trucks is fiction. But how much is based on real life?
Katie Crouch: I think Girls in Trucks is very emotionally autiobiographical and…I guess, loosely factually autobiographical. I mean, I've definitely done a lot of those things. I'm from Charleston, I've lost my accent, I went to school up north, and then I lived in New York. I basically just took my life and dialed it up a notch or two. As an example, I never got sexually assaulted at dancing school. There were mean boys, but I was never dragged under a stairway. My first boyfriend wasn't a farmer. I had my heart broken, but never by an Upper East Side, unemotionally available banker (laughs). But I do love trucks.
So what's one example of how you "dialed up" your own life for the book?
You remember the chapter "You Are Not Me"? The one where she's running around, looking for her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend? I never did that, exactly, but I would kind of walk around Central Park, looking for my ex. I thought we would bump into each other, and then he would say, "Oh my god, why aren't we together? Let's get married, I love you!" (laughs) And all the horrible things that I'd done would melt away, and everything would be great. Then I realized that I was pretty much stalking him. I realized that if I did run into him, he'd be like, "Umm, what are you doing in the park next to my neighborhood?" In the book, I made Sarah actually stalk Max, and then added some racial tension, 'cause I was like, "Oh, let's make it a bit more interesting."
Most all the writing in the book is from the perspective of women. What do you think Girls in Trucks would have been like if it had been written from Max's perspective?
I think it would be different! (laughs) It would be tough for me to write that book. I tried to write a piece from a man's perspective—Gabe's perspective, actually—and it was very bad. It was obvious that I was trying to write like a dude. I need to work on that as a writer.
So let's talk about the following passage, in which Sarah nearly dies in a bus accident in Peru:
“Fear does different things to different people. “In Sarah’s case, it sparked a strange series of synaptic firings in her mind as it began to flit, frantically, from one truth to another. She loved Rob. She didn’t love Rob. She loved tea—mint tea, not from a tea bag but brewed in a pot. That actor in Stealing Home was the same guy in Ghostbusters. She was pregnant. She was twenty-six. No. She was thirty-one. She didn’t want to die today, in this red-clay country. She liked to swim in blood-warm summer water. Rivers and lakes meshed with marsh. She was going to have a— “Jesus Christ. What? Christ. “She was going to have a baby. Of course she was. She had never been late, or nauseated, in her entire life. It’s Rob. No, that didn’t work, did it? It’s Meg. Meg? It was the German. It was the German. With the loft and the wife and the shoes. It was the German who, of course, would never, ever know. So.”
Something about that really crystallizes your style. It's funny, it's random, it's totally believable, and at the end, there's this revelation. How did you develop that passage?
You know, when I started writing, I didn't know where that chapter was going. I didn't actually know she was gonna have a kid until that passage. It was such an amazing writing experience. Sarah and I figured everything out at the same time. I was like, "Who would be the father? Oh, the German!" And then she's like, "Oh, the German!" The other parts of that chapter were harder to write—sort of, moving the furniture, getting her to Peru, to the hostel—but that was one of those passages that you just start writing, and you're like, dadadadada. I just sort of knew that would happen. I wish it were always like that. I'm having the worst time with my novel right now! Where is that feeling?
If you had the book to write over again, would you do anything different?
One thing, actually. I regret killing off the father. I think it was a little too pat, and it definitely hurt my actual father's feelings. I probably could have portrayed that relationship with him around. But I literally was just like, zap, let's get rid of him.
So the last chapter closes with this weird scene on the porch. Is that a happy ending?
I think it's very hopeful. Yes, Sarah knows that more bad things are gonna happen, but she also knows how to deal with them now. She's gonna lose this guy, or maybe she won't, or something will happen with her daughter, or her mother will die. But the fact is that love comes to us in different ways. And by learning that, Sarah's found happiness. I mean, I think that's the happiest ending I could write for her. I definitely wouldn't want her to get married and become a Camellia.
So where do you go next? More pseudo-autobiography?
I don't know why, but there's always a character that's similar to me. I actually started my next novel from the perspective of a 40-year-old man. I wrote the first couple of chapters, and then, suddenly, he has a daughter, and what do you know, she's 33 and from San Francisco. It might be different when I'm done, but right now the new book is about a father who goes on a fishing trip and never returns. I really like this disappearance-absence idea. The book is primarily about him, his thought process, what happens to him, told in the first person. The other parts—about his family—used to be very small. And then, suddenly, they became bigger and bigger, and now, suddenly, the [daughter] from San Francisco is one of the biggest characters. Lo and behold. It seems like no matter how much I try to squash her, she comes back (laughs).