Since the publishing anniversary of The Thin Wall is creeping up, I thought I would revisit a question from an interview I did with Readerviews when the book first came out in 2007. Now I took a beating on the net about the subject matter of this book, and it was a very stressful time. I was called a pervert, and it was said that I was condoning violence against women, blah blah blah ad nausea. I still get hate mail from time to time. Despite the emotional anxiety it caused me, I’ve never defended the work, but I thought it would be cathartic if I revisited the book by offering a fresh perspective on the most important of the review questions:
RV: What inspired you to write this book?
CAG: Well, to start, I don’t write plot driven stories. I posit; I agitate; I present contradictions, and in that respect, I suppose I write belief driven stories. The point A to point B happens when the main character (usually the narrator of the story) questions a belief they have at the beginning of the story and comes to realize they were wrong by the end. It’s a straightforward trajectory, and I prefer it that way. I write about people. People are grotesquely stupid, predictable, and complacent, and for some reason, I find a simple albeit flawed beauty in that.
Thin Wall was inspired by the psycho-sexual studies of Georges Bataille and a de Sadien idea. Bataille, along with de Sade, is quoted in the beginning of the book, and the book starts and ends with a direct intertextual tribute to him. As for de Sade … those who have read de Sade understand that he never wrote about Sex. He was a satirist, and in his more famously belligerent works, he wrote about Power: or rather the abuse of for the sole purpose of manipulating, intimidating, and subjugating others. He used sexualized violence to get his point across because people have and always will fear sex. In Thin Wall, Julian and Laleana discover each other and de Sade in college when they both choose to write about him for their Philosophy papers. Julian understands de Sade thoroughly, but Laleana naively and grossly misinterprets the text, literally taking it to mean: alternative sexual exploration equals freedom. She embraces this idea in an effort to alleviate the isolation and loneliness she feels. She embraces Julian’s anti-conformism and his power over her.
**** SPOILER ALERT – SORT OF****
Eventually, other members of their close-knit friend group, Tom and Cecile, discover that love, falling in and being in love, is not conformism, as Julian would have them all believe. Upon witnessing that revelation, Laleana begins to question her decades’ long relationship with Julian. She begins to understand that sexual anarchy has done nothing to ease her loneliness and has only left her feeling more alienated and codependent as well as manipulated, used, and abused*. But when you’ve known a thing for so long and that belief is so ingrained in you, it’s difficult to put things into perspective. Julian is all she knows. And that is comforting. Change is not. Ioan knows this all too well, as he has closed himself off entirely. He is the anti-libertine in contrast to Julian. Tom, Cecile, and Ioan all try to warn Laleana that the escalating violence between herself and Julian is becoming a serious concern. In the beginning, as many co-dependents do, she turns a blind angry eye to their accusations of abuse.
By the end of the story, and after much introspection, Laleana does come to understand that she is in a toxic relationship, that her original belief about sexual freedom was misguided, that their mutually agreed upon arrangement no longer works for her, and that she must leave Julian. Julian understands that his control over her has waned and that he must let her go so she can take a chance on the real love she feels for someone else. That someone else is obvious, as it should be. I prefer not to hide things from readers. And even though Julian never conforms to the group’s newfound idea about love, Laleana, Tom, Cecile, and Ioan simply accept that and accept him as he is.
I wanted to write a story about the power of friendship, which is the belief here that never falters, and while sex is the thematic treatment I chose to use for the story, I wrote it deliberately in a very anti-de Sadien way.** So did I hit the mark? Who knows really. As an author, I simply write a story in the way it moves me to write it. I don’t harbor any secret expectations while doing so either. Expectations are useless to me and only produce close-minded ideas in my experience. I don’t really bother myself with those things. I used to, too much probably, but I came to realize that fiction is a love/hate thing. Those who are looking for complex plot structures and superheroes will probably be disappointed with the story. These are just ordinary people doing ordinary things in a very ordinary world. Those who are looking for erotica will not find it here either, as I don’t write graphic sex in my novellas, and probably never will. I believe some things are better left unsaid. However, some of the scenes might disturb some readers. I knew that going in. Other readers will find it all rather tame. And yet other readers will get something entirely different from it, hopefully something unexpected.
Reader discretion is advised, as always.
* Note: Laleana did not find the consensual sex with Julian abusive. She felt emotionally abused in that she felt withheld from. Julian would never express his emotions with her or anyone, and she could not express her emotions with him. All she wanted was to say, I love you, and hear it back in return. She would never get that with Julian.
** Note: Thin Wall was written with the idealistic de Sade always in my thoughts. In direct contradiction to his famous and scandalous “libertine” fiction, or rather what us literature nerds call “the Myth of de Sade,” he has quite a large body of work in which he employs Gothic conventions, specifically Romance, to excellent effect. These works are softer by comparison. The sex and torture often applied to affect in his social and political satire have been tempered, favoring instead the psychological torture of being in love. Yes, de Sade understood and felt deep romantic love, and Thin Wall attempts to pay homage to him and a few others who rank among my favorite writers, poets, and philosophers:
Life has taught us that love does not consist of gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
And yes, de Sade understood what it was to be a woman and never failed to show his compassion for those he felt were oppressed by Society, by the Law, by the Church, and most of all, by Men:
You charming sex, you will be free; like men, you will enjoy all the delights that nature has made your obligations; you will not have to be constrained in any pleasure. Must the more divine section of humanity be clapped in irons by the less divine section? Ah, smash those chains—nature wants you to smash them! You should have no other limits than your leanings, no other laws than your cravings, no other morals than nature; stop languishing in those barbaric prejudices that caused your charms to fade and imprisoned the godly surges of your hearts.”
To read the transcript of the original Readerviews Interview, click here.