Foos, Laurie 1966–
Foos, Laurie 1966–
PERSONAL: Born June 17, 1966, in Long Island, NY; daughter of Thomas (a mail carrier) and Anna (a homemaker) Foos; married Michael Giannetta (a patent attorney), August 31, 1991. Education: State University of New York at Binghamton, B.A., 1988; Brooklyn College, M.F.A., 1990. Politics: Liberal Democrat. Religion: Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—Shrewsbury, MA. Agent—Coffee House Press, Attn: Laurie Foos, 27 N. 4th St., Ste. 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Fisher College, Boston, MA, and Marlboro, MA, adjunct instructor, 1993–; Writers at Work Conference, Salt Lake City, UT, faculty for novel workshop, 2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow, Sewanee Writers Conference and Wesleyan Writers Conference, both 1997; MacDowell Colony fellowship.
Ex Utero (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1995, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
Twinship (novel), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.
Bingo under the Crucifix: A Novel, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Before Elvis There Was Nothing, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including On the Edge, FC2, 1995, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Hodder-Headline, 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Laurie Foos's first novel, Ex Utero, is the bizarre, satirical tale of a woman named Rita, who, during a shopping trip, discovers that she has lost her uterus. As Fay Weldon explained in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the story is also about "Adele, whose vagina seals up and becomes seamless in sympathy; Lucy, who from sheer superfluity of sisterhood loses enough blood to drench the world … and white-headed Nodderman, the TV chat-show host, viewing favorite of the shopping-mall world, who orchestrates them all." Building on these unlikely premises, Ex Utero can be seen not only as a novel about women's rights, but about human existence in general, as the author has indicated in several interviews. The book does not necessarily protest against men in society—as Weldon observed: "Foos, more sensibly, forgets the common foe and has us all on our hands and knees in the shopping mall searching for a lost womb, united in our femaleness. Female fiction, rather than feminist fiction,… Ex Utero [is] an excellent flagship for a new wave to set sail behind."
"My intent in writing this book," Foos once told CA, "was to explore the pressures and desires facing women in their childbearing years. Suddenly as a woman you become an entity; people around you become interested in your sex life and your reproductive capabilities. As a woman who is now at this time in her life, it is amazing to me the way that people suddenly feel as if they have a stake in you, and feel no shame at all at asking you the most intimate questions. 'Are you trying?' 'How long do you plan to wait?' In addition, I recently have begun to notice the differences in the ways in which women with children treat other women with children in contrast with the way they might treat women without children. There seems to be a kind of elitism, a secret club, among women with children—a club to which you can only be admitted if your womb has been used. There is a feeling of superiority and envy among both sides—lots of ambivalence.
"In addition, one of the things I tried to accomplish in this novel was to exaggerate the sexuality in both sexes. There is such a double standard in our culture. Somehow it is acceptable for a man to be an insatiable creature, but a woman is never seen in quite the same light. Her desires, bodily functions, menstruations, etc., are still rather cloaked. To exaggerate the way that a woman's sexuality is perceived was one of my main goals. What if, I thought, men began to see women not only as a 'piece of ass' but as keepers of wombs? What if their lure came not just from their physicality but from their abilities to procreate, to house fetuses? And in doing so, I tried to create a great deal of play with the sexual imagery. I also wanted to explore the unconscious desire a woman may feel at times to seal herself up from men, to 'close up shop,' seal off her passage. The sheer fact of a woman's physiology leaves her always vulnerable. What would happen if she were to control this? Men would be dying to get in.
"Beneath the obvious satire is (I hope) a more serious message about the difficulty that men and women have in connecting, the fact that role models for women often come mainly from fashion magazines and talk shows, and the ultimately personal decision about whether to have a child or not, or when to have that child. I also wanted to explore the questions of imagination and power, the ability to create and procreate, the desire to belong, the communion among women, the isolation of men, the question of being a sexual being and being a mother, what is a sensitive male?, etc., etc.
"My [second] novel, Images (later published under a different title), is also absurdist, but deals with issues involving art and family relationships, the destruction of the myth that one must lead an eccentric, tormented life in order to be an artist. This book is also replete with phallic images. And, there are walruses in it."
Foos's satirical second novel was published as Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist: A Novel about Art, Bowling, Pizza, Sex, and Hair Spray in 1997. The novel revolves around Frances Fisk, who finds herself, on the eve of her 18th birthday, dealing with major changes in her life, including the death of her father and her mother's remarriage to a bowling alley tycoon. Frances spirals into a deep, surrealist depression. Patricia Ross, writing in Library Journal, called the book "an amusing satire of artists and their critics as well as an absurdist tale of a teenage girl dealing with her sexuality." Ross took special note of Foos's satire of the art world but claimed she "falters when she turns Frances's understandable obsession with her father and confusion about sex into a bizarre, hallucinogenic nightmare." A Publishers Weekly contributor also found some of the surrealism "awkward" but said that Foos's "unique vision and bravado create a highly original novel."
The author's third novel Twinship was published in 1999. The novel continues in Foos's surrealist vein, this time centering on 34-year-old Maxi Dublin, who, nine months after seducing a bisexual cat-groomer, finds herself giving birth to a clone of herself. A Publishers Weekly contributor mildly faulted Foos for repeating "both phrases and ideas, as if she doesn't trust the reader to grasp the subtext," but noted that this tendency "detracts only slightly from this endlessly inventive and wackily entertaining tale." In Booklist, Whitney Scott commented: "This could be Foos' breakthrough. It has less of the surreal humor that gave Ex Utero … its antic lilt and far more intensity in its dark pathos and suffering." Scott concluded: "Foos' third outing should propel her into the ranks of the literary heavy hitters and swell the audience for her loony imagination and its serious underpinnings."
In Bingo under the Crucifix: A Novel, Foos tells the story of a thirty-six-year-old man, Irv, who turns into a baby, and the efforts of his sister, Chloe, and her off-kilter family to get him back to normal. Commenting on the novel, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "The novel feels more like a short story run amok and the oddball quotient is a little too high, but the combination of humor and heart is its saving grace." Beth Leistensnider, writing in Booklist, especially noted "the author's ability to balance the hyperbolic events with subtle, witty prose."
Sisters Cass and Lena are still dealing with their parents' abandonment of them when they were teenagers in Foos's fifth novel Before Elvis There Was Nothing. Cass and her agoraphobic sister, Lena, lost their parents on the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. The psychologically tormented Lena still waits for a letter to arrive from them. Meanwhile, Cass seems psychologically normal but eventually begins to develop a horn growing out of her forehead because of her repressed feelings. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented on the novel's "comedic charms." Scott, writing again in Booklist, called the novel "a stunningly ironic, page-turning commentary on public image, beauty, and celebrity."
Foos also told CA: "In my writing, I am most interested in the inner lives of women, in writing about those things which are taboo: erections, periods, foot fetishes. I am not interested in writing the traditional realistic story, per se, but to push the limits of reality, to make things seem absurd and grotesque in order for the reader to see things in a new way. As Flannery O'Connor once said, it sometimes takes drastic measures to open the reader's eyes. I'm interested in the unconscious mind, and that is the greatest source of symbols for me. Much of my writing springs entirely from the unconscious; it is only when the work is nearly finished that I begin to understand its implications.
"Although I am so interested in women's lives, their inner struggles and such, most of my literary influences have been male. I will never forget the first time I read Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis or Eugene Ionesco's The Rhinoceros. That for me opened a whole new world. Among other influences or favorite writers, there are a host of others: Samuel Beckett, Donald Barthelme, Philip Roth, Nikolai Gogol (his story 'The Nose' remains a marker in my life), William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Raymond Carver, Robert Coover, etc. I find myself most often reading books by men; I don't know why this is. Haruki Murakami is a favorite. As for women writers, I most admire Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Flannery O'Connor, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alice Munro, and Amy Hempel. I am always searching out new women writers and reading interviews with women writers with whom I feel the greatest affinity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist: A Novel about Art, Bowling, Pizza, Sex, and Hair Spray, p. 1478; September 15, 1999, Whitney Scott, review of Twinship, p. 231; September 1, 2002, Beth Leistensnider, review of Bingo under the Crucifix: A Novel, p. 56; April 15, 2005, Whitney Scott, Before Elvis There Was Nothing, p. 1430.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of Before Elvis There Was Nothing, p. 247.
Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Patricia Ross, review of Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist, p. 124.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 1997, review of Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist, p. 48; August 2, 1999, review of Twinship, p. 75; July 15, 2002, review of Bingo under the Crucifix, p. 52; March 7, 2005, review of Before Elvis There Was Nothing, p. 48.
Citypaper.net, http://www.citypaper.net/ (October 16, 2006), Remi Newman, "An Interview with Laurie Foos."
Laurie Foos Home Page, www.lauriefoos.com (under construction as of October 30, 2006).
Splendid, http://www.splendidezine.com/ (October 16, 2006), Jenn Sikes, review of Bingo under the Crucifix.