Posts Tagged Elizabeth Cohen

STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.


2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.


4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.


5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.


6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.


14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.


16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

STEELE INTERVIEWS: ELIZABETH COHEN [author, The Hypothetical Girl]

hypothetical girl

In this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age. Navigating various dating sites, creating a real or fabricated profile, various internet flirtations, anticipating actual meetings. In the opening story “Animal Dancing,” Cohen writes: “I am a giver. I am fun. I am interesting and I have spectacular eyes. Someone will find me. Someone will love me.” Would you take a chance on a potential long-distance relationship as described in “People Who Live Far, Far Away”: “A cool Icelandic dude who likes nature and animals might be the ticket, she thought, coming across Miko’s profiles on He would be exotic enough to impress her friends, who, after college, had all so promptly given birth.” Should you take a chance? Should you dive in and risk exposing yourself online? In “Love, Really” Cohen writes: “When he kisses you and you kiss him back it is like you are home. Home being the man himself. This is ridiculous, you think, as you hardly know this man. But there it is: home.”

Elizabeth Cohen is an assistant professor of English at Plattsburgh State University. Her articles, stories and poetry have appeared in Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, Salon, Tablet and the Yale Review. Her memoir, The Family on Beartown Road (Random House, 2003), was a New York Times Notable Book.

Amy Steele: How long did it take you to write this collection of stories?

Elizabeth Cohen: In all about three years. I started them while living in Connecticut and finished up in my current home in upstate New York. They followed the trajectory of my own thoughts about trying and then, later, actually trying online dating.

Amy Steele: What attracted you to writing about online dating/ dating in the digital age?

Elizabeth Cohen: The realization that love and courtship, millennia old, have actually changed, due to technology and an interest in how that might be. Is love forever different now? I watched a friend meet three men in succession online (this is a smart and reasonable fifty year old woman) and then believe each time she was in love, the third time actually initiating what looks to be a lifelong relationship! These were all people she never met. That is just not how love has worked before. This idea of the mediation of emotion, the technology-enhanced ways of finding and courting and growing into the idea of love– it is all new. And that fascinated me. Plus, it is often just so funny.

Amy Steele: How did you gather information to work from? Personal experience? Research?

Elizabeth Cohen: Articles I read, stories I have heard, people I canvassed for information, things I have experienced and things I just dreamed up. Pure wild imagination let loose in this realm.


Amy Steele: What do you like about writing stories?

Elizabeth Cohen: The fact that you, the author, can create a world. You can make it any way you want. You make the rules, you create the scenery. You pick the soundtrack. There is no right or wrong way to do it, aside from using basic grammar and solid writing constructs. You can create characters who do things you would never do or have opportunities you would never have. It is a way to live outside your own life.

Amy Steele: You wrote a memoir. How does writing fiction compare to writing a memoir and was it a huge leap to start writing fiction after writing a memoir?

Elizabeth Cohen: In a memoir you are married to truth. You can choose what pieces or slices of truth you want to tell, how you want to shape truth or organize it but there is always that truth requirement that underlies and in fact directs all you write. In fiction, you have no such requirements. What a relief! You can do whatever you want. And it becomes a question of the skill and artistry in which you have done it, in the end. Nobody will call you out for lying. Because you are supposed to lie – fiction is all about lying. As Albert Camus said, “fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” It is about creating really interesting, involved and imagined alternate realities. Memoir, in the other hand, is about finding beautiful and unique ways to tell a story while being faithful to life, and accuracy. Says Stephanie Klein, author of Straight Up and Dirty: A Memoir: “Tell the truth, or someone will tell it for you.”

Amy Steele: In “The Opposite of Love” you write: “Rita had always thought happiness was overrated anyway, the emotion for the masses. Something advertised daily on national television.” This is fantastic. She tries to keep her cancer a secret, even from her mother, for the longest time. And when it does come out she handles it in a truly sardonic manner. How did you come up with Rita and this story?

Elizabeth Cohen: She just popped into my head. I have no explanation for it. After they read that story, people are constantly asking me if I have breast cancer. No, I do not. And I hope I never do. I was just interested in exploring the idea of irony and this character appeared with a strategy for doing it.

Amy Steele: Allison has a sponge-filing system and develops one for her love strategy in “Boat Man.” Why do you think this didn’t work for her?

Elizabeth Cohen: Because love is more complicated than sponges. Further, people on the internet are not who you think they are; they have dimensionality and features. On the internet they are merely ideas of people, they are hypothetical. You cannot make a surefire strategy out of something that may not exist. That would be like trying to catch mist, put it in a bottle.

Amy Steele: “Life Underground” speaks to potential and societal expectations. How did you come up with this story?

Elizabeth Cohen: That story, unlike most of the others here, is actually rooted in some things that actually happened. It is, in the end, about sibling rivalry, about fear of failure and settling. These are topics I am obsessed with, the way fear and competition can just shut us down.

Plus, I love caves. I just do. I think I might have been a spelunker in a past life.

The Hypothetical Girl
by Elizabeth Cohen


Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: