The streets of Harlem feel considerably different to Claire Messud when she visits the neighborhood in her novel, The Woman Upstairs. In the novel, she accompanies a reclusive friend and budding artist on a walk. So we felt like we’d wandered into a novel about a young woman rediscovering her place in the world, and then her chief interest — the pleasures and curses of Alice in Wonderland. But in real life, the author is a lifelong resident of the East Village. She’s lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years and still has a firm connection to the stores and restaurants, both past and present, that helped shape her life.
At Starbucks, she meets a young man named Daniel, a nearby professor of Middle Eastern studies, who later questions whether her character in the novel, Maggie who lives in a downtown studio, is a phantasm or a person. They discuss literature, politics and Dante’s “Inferno.” The conversation continues in a storefront bar where Maggie becomes friends with Claire’s son, Noah. Claire says she enjoys the following exchange, but somehow doesn’t agree with her son:
Claire: “You know about the pranks, Daniel?”
Daniel: “There’s a pranking principle that I really got from school, and I always respected it.
Claire: “What’s that, Daniel?”
Daniel: “It basically means you never punch a kid’s nose in. It’s just not something that I do. And it turns out that that principle applies to people, too. It’s better to give than to receive.”
They finish a beer.
Claire: “Well, I was going to say, you haven’t given enough.”
Daniel: “I don’t want to see you hurt.”
The excerpt is part of an article in the Fall 2018 edition of O Magazine. The piece features a conversation between Messud and the writer Barbara Eden. Eden’s work has appeared in O’s predecessor, InStyle, Glamour, Details, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Modern Maturity. She has also authored several popular children’s books. Previously, Eden was an associate editor at Rolling Stone magazine, news editor for the Los Angeles Times and senior market editor for Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Us Weekly. A graduate of Rutgers University, Eden lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Her husband is the producer and director Jack Hyman, who was an award-winning actor on “Welcome Back Kotter.”
The article, entitled “Beauty, Aanswers, and Shouting,” begins online Oct. 15. It appears in print in the Nov. 13 issue of O.