BY LISA REDMOND
The Lunar Housewife (Doubleday, June 2022) is Caroline Woods’ second novel; a story of an bold younger lady in New York within the early Nineteen Fifties, writing journal articles and dealing on a novel impressed by the house race, who discovers CIA collusion on the planet of arts and literature. That is the period of concern concerning the Soviet risk, the ‘pink scare’, and I requested the creator what sparked her curiosity within the interval.
‘The primary spark for the story got here from my agent, Shannon Hassan, who I’ve a unbelievable collaborative relationship with. She requested me in late 2017 if I’d ever heard concerning the CIA utilizing American arts and literature to combat a propaganda battle in opposition to Russia through the Chilly Conflict, and I hadn’t. The primary story I uncovered was that of The Paris Evaluation, which now-famously was arrange as a entrance for Peter Matthiessen’s spy actions in Paris, and later accepted some hefty funding the CIA funnelled to them by way of a shadow group. Matthiessen and his co-founder, George Plimpton, at all times denied the CIA had any editorial enter.’
Woods goes on to say, ‘I made a decision to write down a few Nineteen Fifties journal that was not solely accepting CIA cash however closely concerned in printing CIA-crafted content material. I knew a girl ought to be the narrator, and that she ought to get the higher of those guys indirectly, as a result of it was principally girls, like Frances Stonor Saunders, who ultimately broke the actual story behind this novel.’
The narrator Louise, though a fictional creation, could be very a lot drawn from the ladies who broke the story and who Woods found throughout her analysis. ‘Louise isn’t primarily based on any actual lady specifically, however she is partially impressed by Anne Roiphe, who had an affair within the early Nineteen Sixties with one other Paris Evaluation founder, Doc Humes. Roiphe was an aspiring author and single mom residing, like Louise, on the [New York’s] Higher East Aspect. In keeping with her memoir, Artwork and Insanity, it took Roiphe some time to seek out and belief her personal voice, intimidated as she was by the so-called good males she hung round with. I made a decision to have Louise write one thing very totally different from Roiphe’s work, which is the sci-fi romance “The Lunar Housewife” that intersperses the primary narrative of the story. Louise isn’t attempting to seize her personal expertise, however she is attempting to say one thing true concerning the methods wherein each the U.S. and the Russian governments on the time weren’t trusting their residents to have their very own concepts. Louise is quiet about her work as a result of she’s nervous the boys round her will dismiss it or, worse, go over her head and collude with their publishing cronies to sabotage it, due to its material.’
Woods additionally brilliantly captures the sexism of the period and the perspective in direction of girls writers and girls basically.
‘Roiphe’s memoir actually helped me get into the minds of all the ladies who would have been surrounding these publishing fellows of the 50s–the wives at house, the “ladies” on the swank publishing events, the aspiring journalists and fading movie stars,’ she says. ‘Additionally, that is going to sound pessimistic, however I don’t assume sexism is even behind us; it’s nonetheless right here. A few of Louise’s frustrations, and the methods the boys round her gaslight, dismiss, and speak over her, are drawn from life [today].’
The novel options cameo appearances from a number of the literary greats of the interval: James Baldwin, whom the heroine meets in Italy, and Ernest Hemingway, whom she interviews for the journal she works for. ‘Baldwin is there as a result of he was additionally an early founding member of The Paris Evaluation, however he was quickly edged out of his function there. Some folks speculate that the CIA wouldn’t have needed him concerned, as a result of he, like [Langston] Hughes, had too many vital issues to say about the way in which america handled its Black residents. I believed having Baldwin reference “Stranger within the Village” was related and necessary, as a result of it was precisely the form of essay the CIA wouldn’t have needed circulating Western Europe. And Hemingway, from what I perceive, had a unique set of struggles with the CIA and FBI. He was thought of emblematic of American literature, our best-known and most embellished author, and the powers that be each needed to raise him up and form of management what he needed to say. “They” definitely wouldn’t have needed him to say something too supportive of Castro, as an example. Apparently, he moved to Cuba within the hope that the FBI wouldn’t be capable to hearken to him there, however I’m positive their attain prolonged previous our shores.’
The analysis led Caroline Woods to some fascinating particulars concerning the interval, a few of which solely got here to mild a few years later. ‘There was a little bit of analysis I used to be fairly surprised by, and upset to comprehend I couldn’t use. Within the dinner scene at Minetta Tavern, Louise and the fellows talk about Langston Hughes’ testimony earlier than Joe McCarthy’s investigative Senate subcommittee. You may learn the testimony in its entirety on-line now, but it surely was a personal, closed-door listening to on the time. It’s very exhausting to learn–right here’s a superb man, certainly one of our biggest writers, being grilled about whether or not or not he’s a Communist. He’s admirably sincere, admitting to having given thought to the varied “isms” of the left, together with socialism, and he provides a heart-wrenching account of his expertise rising up Black in America. What actually shocked me was that at one level, Senator Dirksen says, look, the federal government has spent all this cash “propagandizing” (his phrase!) American literature to be despatched to libraries overseas, and principally, the senators try to determine if Hughes’ writing is value utilizing as propaganda. There it’s, in black and white, however this transcript was solely made public not too long ago. The characters in The Lunar Housewife wouldn’t have identified precisely what was stated. If she had, Louise may have waved it in her male colleagues’ faces once they name her loopy for suggesting the federal government would ever propagandize artwork.’
Concerning the contributor: Lisa Redmond blogs at The Madwoman within the Attic about girls writers and historic fiction. She is presently engaged on a novel primarily based on the Seventeenth-century Scottish witch trials.