The Fiction Editors, Rappahannock Review: We noticed that Beth and Gina’s relationship is just as important, if not more so, to the story than Beth and Asher’s relationship. What were you hoping to achieve by using their friendship/possible romantic relationship as the main focus?
Brenna Lemieux: Part of what I want to do is tell stories about the love between friends. I like the idea of saying, “This is a love story,” and it’s about two friends taking care of each other. In this particular story, I wanted to show the difference in the ways people treat each other, in their expectations, in what they will put up with in relationships they consider romantic versus those they consider platonic. Because somehow we do have very different standards for these two.
RR: Why does Beth keep longing for a relationship with Asher, even though she seems to be aware of how poorly he treats her and how unhealthy the relationship is?
BL: I think Beth’s behavior comes from a few places. First, she’s insecure. That’s the root of a lot of it. But in addition to that (and related to it, I’d argue), she’s living in the world we’re all living in, in which we’re told that it is very important to be in a romantic relationship. Collectively, we spend a lot of time and energy on securing and nurturing these relationships. I have read too many articles about how to attract a partner or please a partner or fix what’s wrong between me and my partner, but I haven’t come across many articles on how to do these things with friendships. We seem to assume that making and keeping friends is easy and therefore unimportant. I think that’s not only wrong but also a dangerous cultural attitude that leads a lot of us to both undervalue our friendships and place too much importance in romantic relationships—and end up in damaging situations, as Beth does.
RR: Were you hoping to imply that Beth and Gina had begun to enter a romantic relationship towards the end of the piece?
BL: In my mind, they aren’t doing that. They’re women in their twenties who have known each other for years and lived with each other for a good while; if they wanted to be dating, they’d be dating by now. But I did want to suggest a shift in how we think about the different kinds of love in our lives.
On paper, if you went through a checklist of things people do when they’re in love, Beth and Gina are checking a lot of the boxes: they live together, they spend a lot of their free time together, they cook for each other and eat meals together. They’re friends, they’re roommates, but these words feel inadequate to express the depth of their feeling for each other, the investment they have in each other’s lives. At the end, Beth is confused and hurt and tipsy; the thought she has about being in love with Gina is (in my mind, anyway—readers get to make their own decisions) more a kind of melodramatic, sentimental drunk person’s thought. But it’s also honest for the reasons I described above: on paper, they look like they’re in love.
RR: What did Beth and Gina achieve for themselves as characters by dressing up as gondoliers and going out despite the storm and Asher ditching Beth?
BL: I like to think this is both an act of reconciliation between them and an affirmation that they will not (at least for tonight) let romantic love be the most important force in their lives. When you’re single, it’s easy to spend a lot of energy on activities that might lead to “meeting someone.” It’s easy to feel like a failure every time that doesn’t happen. And I think this ties back to the way we have, culturally, held up romantic relationships as the ideal scenario (at least for women).
Part of why I want stories about friend love to be in the world is that I want us to have more familiar arcs to understand our lives. I want more shapes to hold my experience up to for comparison. Because we can’t help but do that, think of our lives narratively and triangulate ourselves around—base our understanding in—narratives that we’re familiar with. I think that providing ourselves with narratives in which two friends are really happy together even though they’re both single can go a long way toward easing the angst we have around relationships. And maybe help us from getting and staying in relationships that are unhealthy.
RR: The element of the TV show seemed negligible in the beginning of the story, but became an essential source of causality by the end. What was your inspiration for working this layer into the story? Did you have any big plans for it when you started writing, or was the conclusion an epiphany similar to Gina’s big idea at the end of the story?
Actually, the gondolier costume was in some ways the start of the story. Two friends of mine actually went as gondoliers one year, in similarly last-minute circumstances. I loved the costume and the real-world circumstances around it so much but didn’t realize it would be a part of this story. When it all came together, I suspected my unconscious had planted the rest of the story so I could write that scene.
Brenna Lemieux’s work in Issue 5.1: