Monday October 23, 2017

Adam Gopnik gets intimate about his marriage in his new memoir

Adam Gopnik is a staff writer at the New Yorker.

Adam Gopnik is a staff writer at the New Yorker. (Brigitte Lacombe/Penguin Random House)

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There are two great loves described in Adam Gopnik's new memoir, At the Stranger's Gate: his wife Martha and New York City. Back in 1980, Adam and Martha boarded a bus in Montreal bound for Manhattan. The memoir traces the decade that follows, as Gopnik finds his feet as a writer and New York is a city in transition.

Gopnik, who is a staff writer at the New Yorker and also the author of the bestselling memoir Paris to the Moon, spoke to Shelagh Rogers about love and life as a writer in New York City.

Compromises

"All bad marriages have arguments over and over. All good marriages have arguments, but it's the same argument again and again. Our argument was about rare and well-done meat. Martha came from a very 'well-done' family and I came from a very 'rare' family.  We had this deep divide that got to be very serious. It sounds trivial, but like all trivial fights in marriage, it could have large effects. Finally, I made Martha a plate of Tuna au Poivre. She pushed it aside saying, 'I can't eat this!' I got up from the table to walk out and she said to me, 'You are going back to the stove and you are going to finish cooking that fish.' That was the moral foundation on which our marriage stabilized. We discovered the magic word of marriage, which is 'medium.'"     

Money

"One of the things I tried to do with this book was balance the romantic comedy of a young couple moving to New York with an anthropology of how New York and, more broadly, the world was changing. There was a great desert between all of these people living in microcosms and making their own meaning out of them and this vast, impersonal money-driven culture of glitter. That became an obsession of mine: intense inner experience and increasingly alienating outer experience. It had never seemed quite so polarized as it did then."

Writing about love

"Good writing is about making private lives public. We all have private lives that are filled with longings, appetites, contradictions and hypocrisies and we're all ashamed of them. When we read good books, we suddenly say, 'Oh my god! All that monstrous music that runs through my mind is exactly the same as the music that is running through everyone else's mind. I wanted to write about a piece of marriage that I thought maybe hadn't been written before."

Adam Gopnik's comments have been edited and condensed.