Vol. 113 (2022)

Five Questions for New York Times 
Bestselling Author Jean Hanff Korelitz



Jean Hanff Korelitz is a force of nature in contemporary American literature. Celebrated as the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot (soon to be a television series on Hulu starring two-time Academy Award winner Mahersala Ali); You Should Have Known (which aired on HBO in October 2020 as The Undoing starring Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland); and, Admission (adapted for film in 2013 starring three-time Emmy Award winner Tina Fey), her newest novel, The Latecomer, explores the intense dynamics of a family where the children were conceived through IVF [In Vitro Fertilization].


In addition to her career as a novelist, Korelitz, sensitive to the promotional gauntlet faced by authors, founded BOOKTHEWRITER, a company that hosts pop-up book gatherings where small groups of influential readers discuss new books with their authors.


Stay Thirsty Magazine was honored to visit with Jean Hanff Korelitz for these Five Questions about The Latecomer at her home in New York City that she shares with her husband, Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.



STAY THIRSTY: In your latest novel, The Latecomer, you explore the effects of IVF on a family and chronicle the resulting emotional rollercoaster the family members experience over time. What motivated you to center a story around this particular reproductive technology?


JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: The technology was actually incidental to the story, not so much its focus. Families can be bifurcated in all sorts of natural ways, and kids born very far apart without any help from a fertility specialist. But the randomness of selecting one viable embryo (or, in this case, three!) for implantation and a fourth after nearly two decades in a freezer in Connecticut? That introduces dizzying complications. You have to wonder: what will it be like for THAT kid, should he or she ever be born, to contemplate the everything they missed – for better or for worse?


STAY THIRSTY: The psychological issues that can occur with children born long after their siblings are brought into clear focus in your story. Your book's title, The Latecomer, represents the portal voice through which the story unfolds. What did you discover in writing this book about family interpersonal relationships?


JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: Families are really the gift that keeps on giving. Everyone has one, and it’s always freakish in its own way. In trying to tell the story of this particular family, I had to come to an understanding of whose story it was, and that was one of the most challenging things I’ve encountered in eight novels (plus the two that were never published!). Despite my (ahem) lampooning of writing programs in The Plot, I never attended one, myself, and I’m a little sensitive about all those writerly things I never learned, like point-of-view and narrative-tone … I mention this because there’s probably a high-minded way of talking about how I put The Latecomer together, but I lack the vocabulary to talk about it. I wrote this book many times, and cut many, many pages along the way. At some point, I realized not only the story that was being told, but who was trying to tell it. That’s all I can say, without ruining the surprise I’m most proud of.



STAY THIRSTY: Infidelity plays a powerful role in your novel. When you were thinking about this book, why did you choose this form of betrayal?


JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: So many betrayals, so little time … I think that the adulterer in question is less motivated by sex, or even love, than by absolution. Though no actual fault of his own, he has caused the deaths of two people, and forgiveness seems so impossible to him that he doesn’t even bother to look for it. Then, suddenly, it materializes in a way that seems both inevitable and shocking. We can hardly blame him, I think, for doing what he does under those circumstances.

Jean Hanff Korelitz

STAY THIRSTY: Outsider Art plays a role in your story. What attracted you to this genre of art and why did you include it?


JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: I remember reading about Achilles G. Rizzoli around the time of the first Outside Art Fair in Manhattan in 1993, and I should have picked up the phone right then and tried to buy one of his magical people-as-architecture portraits, but they were probably already far too expensive for me. Instead, I became a Rizzoli fan and friendly with Bonnie Grossman, the art dealer who championed his work. I visited her Ames Gallery in Berkeley a couple of times, and eventually was able to purchase two of his more affordable pieces. I never felt for the Outsider Art genre as a whole what I felt for Rizzoli in particular, and I was a little bit miffed by how completely Henry Darger (whose work emerged at the same time) completely overshadowed him and everyone else. Darger, of course, was a fascinating and captivating (and deeply disturbing) artist, but it’s the privilege of the novelist to meddle with reality. I was delighted to put Rizzoli’s work in The Latecomer, and I hope I’ve given him a little bit of a new life. He deserves it.



STAY THIRSTY: Fate, accident and disaster are forces at work in your book. How did you contain them and make them work for you?


JEAN HANFF KORELITZ: Fate, accident and disaster – I could not have distilled the novel’s essence more perfectly! These three are so powerful that one must be very, very careful with them. If you’re too clumsy or manipulative, readers (myself included) really resent the author, as they should! But if the touch is light and things seem to fall precisely where they should, it’s magical. That’s what I was trying to do. It’s for others to say whether I succeeded.


(Jean Hanff Korelitz photo credit: Michael Avedon)



Jean Hanff Korelitz     




All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.