Author Caroline Hagood's newest book, Making Maxine's Baby (out next month from Hanging Loose Press) is a literary hybrid that reads like poetry but arcs like a novel. The postmodern Inferno is told from the perspective of Maxine, a once privileged New Yorker who gives up modern life to make a home underground in the subway tunnels and mates with Marvin, a homeless man who wears one trash bag shoe and one golden clog. Hagood packs her latest work with references for readers to parse apart, from Medusa to Leatherface, exploring the use of ultra-violence in art.
To learn more about her process and the story behind Making Maxine's Baby, I spoke with Hagood about ultra-violence in art, orgasms, and slasher films.
VICE: Your character Maxine lives underground in the subway tunnels. Did you research mole people?
Caroline Hagood: I did research mole people. I remember seeing Marc Singer's documentary on people who live in the NYC subway system, Dark Days, and being totally fascinated.
In the poem "How Mermaids Save the Drowning," you describe Maxine's a self-immolating tendency: "She'll Medusa herself." What's that about? Is there something powerful in masochism and self-immolation?
There's a lot in that idea of Medusa-ing yourself. There's making yourself grotesque like Medusa, but I also like the image of turning yourself to stone just by catching a glimpse of your own eyes. Medusa can be a manifestation of the monstrous feminine as seen from the male perspective. A woman with snake hair who can turn you to stone is a scary prospect for any man.
There's something lowbrow or cheap about horror movies, or as you say "slasher films." What draws you to horror movies?
In the book I talk about horror movies as a way of working through trauma. These films can provide a safe space for the working out of all sorts of dark things. Then there are the ones that are also funny, so you're alternately shaking and laughing. This can be particularly cathartic.
Can we say that Maxine is in an inferno?
I wanted to respond to the great mythologies of heroes who had gone underground for insight with a heroine who does the same in her own quirky way.
And you reference Pandora...
Yeah, I like the idea of simultaneously referencing the music genome project and the woman accused of releasing all the evils of humanity on the world.
Maxine is a woman who "confuses ideas with orgasms." Is this why she is likable?
For me, yes, but Maxine will not be everyone's cup of tea. This is another reason I like her.
Besides all the monsters and horror theory, another pervasive theme in the book is negative space.
I've always been intrigued by the concept of negative space: the space around and between what you think you're looking at, the space that makes one thing what it is by being what that one thing isn't.
Does this book suggest we are all damaged and we all take one addiction and replace it with another?
I wanted readers to walk away with the sense that no matter what they have been through, there's always something worthwhile to pull them through. I wanted the reader who has known pain to read the book and feel a little less hopeless, a little less alone.
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