No. 34: Lucas Church
Q. How did you prepare for and navigate through this story with all the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding obese people and those self-proclaimed “fat admirers” who find them attractive?
I tried (and hopefully succeeded) to make sure I was treating Emma with respect and fully render her as a character and not simply as a symbol of obesity. I can’t think of many stories off the top of my head that deal with obese characters without making that concept central to the work. Her body shape actually isn’t pivotal to the plot of the story, which I think is important—she’s obese, but that’s not who she is or why she does the things she does. It does provide a nice physical contrast with that of Jack, who’s thin, which serves as a reminder of the many ways, both physically and emotionally, these two people are different from one another.
Q. You mentioned before that this piece is based on a folk tale found in Richard Chase’s The Jack Tales, which has a compelling anti-hero. What about an anti-hero makes them so fascinating to you? Have any favorite anti-heroes?
I find most heroic characters to be incredibly boring, and I think audiences do as well. We, as consumers of stories, want our heroes to be flawed and there is a pretty established trend in making once more surface-level characters darker and moodier, like Batman and even in the recent James Bond movies. I think we like anti-heroes because we identify with them more readily. They’re more like us, regular people who can be selfish and make bad decisions, than Superman. And folk tales are rife with anti-heroes, especially Jack tales! These stories are all about Jack getting ahead, not only surviving, but getting some ill-gotten gain in the process. I wanted to take that idea into the modern era and have Jack struggle with what he really wants and how he should go about getting it.
Q. Jack has to break Emma up into parts in order to “live in this dream as long as [he] can,” while Emma sees him as an exaggerated caricature. Do you think we all see the people we love in different ways, or is this a hint towards something not quite right in their relationship?
You can’t really know how other people perceive you, and when you’re talking about the people you love, that’s mildly terrifying. It speaks to whether or not we can even really know another person, even if we love them. In the story, Jack is a bit overwhelmed with these new feelings of actually caring for someone, and he wants to relish this new sensation, slowly taking in parts of Emma to savor. And that’s in contrast to Emma, who’s approaching this relationship more casually, even playfully—even though she has more to lose—and so she envisions him as nearly a cartoon. So, to put it another way, they see each other differently, because they’re getting different things out of the relationship. We can’t help but be selfish beings (anti-hero alert!), and I think how we perceive each other is ultimately a reflection of our own needs and desires.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Lucas Church’s story “The Whole Thing up Till Now” appeared in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
The Whole Thing up Till Now
Emma was just like everyone else, she claimed. Soft in some places, hard in others. I just have more soft places, that’s all. To him, her skin was a paradox—an assuredly finite material that seemed to go on forever. Without a dimple or scar, it was a plentiful blankness. He’d never been attracted to a woman so big before. He was never repulsed, like a few of his more coarse friends, by obese people. They drifted in and out of his sight, making little impact, merely different shapes on the landscape. But she was the first that he saw as more than a passer-by. Still, he was short and thin and had already braced himself for stares when they ventured out in public—which they’d only do in the next town over, for decorum’s sake.
“Why do you keep looking at me?” she had asked. They were in bed at his sparsely furnished apartment. “You make me wonder what you see.”
“I like the way the light hits your face,” he said. “The way it feels like I’m looking at a painting, at an idea of you.” He felt dizzy with desire, unlike with the others. He could worship her, set her on a sturdy plinth and worry over her every whim forever. Her skin already brought out the clichés in him—describing it as marble or porcelain or the finest alabaster, whatever that was—so making her into an idol seemed natural. “I like the way it only gives me a part of you, but not the whole you, so I don’t have to be tethered to reality.”
“Why do you only want to see a part of me and not all of me?” She had a mock indignation to her voice, but he could tell she was hurt.
“It’s not that I don’t want all of you. It’s that if I close my eyes when I’m at work, or alone somewhere, I can only conjure up a single part of you. Your face, or your hands, or breasts, or belly, and I’m happier that way. The whole you is the real you, and I’m afraid of what real is, and that real isn’t what I’m used to. I want to live in this dream as long as I can, and that means only taking you in a little at a time.”
She was quiet for a moment, then said, “When I think of you, I see you as a straight line, a caricature, maybe. You’re so small, so skinny, and when I try to see you—how you really look—I always make you into something that’s larger-than-life, a cartoon with every feature exaggerated. I can’t help but smile, and sometimes laugh, whenever I think about you for too long.”
Jack leaned over and kissed her on the mouth, her breath hot against his lips, his face covering hers up wholly in shadow.