Jessie Tu is the author of A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing.
What does feminism mean to you?
It means centering myself as emblematic of how a full human being can be. Basically, giving myself and other women the honour, dignity, care, and attention that men have been given historically.
Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism, and what it means to be a woman writer?
Reading Ibsen’s A Doll’s House when I was 16. My English teacher in high school was a phenomenal man to whom I owe my introduction to feminism. The character of Nora buoyed me in a way that I’d only understand years later. In fact, I’m still trying to understand it. I also read Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin that same year. Those two texts shook something in me: about what a woman is in the world and what she can be. I’ve been vibrating ever since.
When did you begin work on A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing? Can you tell us a bit more about how the book’s conceit and characters came to you?
I started writing it in an apartment on Fifth Avenue [in New York] in January 2018 — I have extraordinary friends who are extraordinarily generous. I wrote it because I was going through a very unhealthy relationship with a man, and wondered why I wasn’t leaving. I started questioning myself in a very confronting way, and I felt I could only analyse my situation and my history by narrativising my problem through a story. I needed to dislocate myself from myself.
While reading A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, I was struck by the many acts of violences that the main character, Jena, inflicts on herself, particularly her deep self-loathing that she tries to mitigate through sex, and how she tries to balance that with a sense of virtuosity in her day-to-day life as a musical prodigy. Can you speak more to this?
I often think about Zadie Smith’s short story ‘Now More Than Ever’, and how one of the female characters reminds me of this idea that we can lead so many lives at once: that we can be both kind and cruel; that we can be so complex and confusing — that messiness was what I wanted to bring out through my characters.
I don’t think we live in a society that often encourages deep self-interrogation, and I think maybe what I wanted to to do with my novel was encourage people to be more aware of why they do what they do. To really ask themselves that question, which can be very confronting. But I guess I also wanted to examine this idea of how easy it is for insecure, self-loathing people to be buoyed by immaculate public images to deflect their internal pain.
In another interview, you said that you were ‘trying to answer some very hard and concrete questions […] grounded by the issue of sex, particularly from an Asian woman’s perspective.’ Do you feel you’ve ended up answering some of those questions through the book?
I still don’t understand why I reached for sex the way I did; I don’t understand why I hungered for male approval so aggressively. But I think I’ve been able to articulate better what I was reaching for, or at least I’ve been able to ask better questions. I’m still not sure. But so long as conversations keep going, and if my novel can help women frame better questions for themselves, then I’d be satisfied.
Which women and non-binary writers do you think everyone should read?
Nayuka Gorrie, Tiffany Tsao, Olivia Laing, Mary Gabriel.