The Paris Review

The Toxicity of Female Tokenism: An Interview with Kathleen Alcott

Though Kathleen Alcott’s third novel, America Was Hard to Find, is set in the mid-twentieth century, its concerns are eerily current—nearly every character is caught between the stability of convention and the blazing allure of revolution. Alcott depicts several big American events—the moon landing, the carnage of Vietnam, and the Reagan administration’s dismissal of the AIDS crisis—but she renders just as many intimate realities with a sensibility that she has come to define as her own. Her prose has a way of finding the cinematic in the personal: the private toil of being a single mother or a fatherless son, the bright loneliness of youth, and, perhaps most vividly, the torrid struggle of a single citizen who is “sickened by the masculine bark of her country” as she tries to find a way toward action.

Fay Fern rejects the traditional path her parents had envisioned for her to instead bartend in the Mojave Desert near an Air Force base; Fay’s transition from the doting mistress of a pilot nearly twice her age to a radical antiwar activist serves as the spine of the narrative. Her stoic ex-lover, Vincent, has moved away to become one of the first astronauts in the nascent space program. He’s also unwittingly become a father to Fay’s son, Wright.

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