Stephanie Reents, Author of The Kissing List, on Personal Reinvention

Why I Love The Blindfold
Stephanie Reents

When I was twenty-five and a half, I quit a perfectly good job as a reporter in rural Idaho, stuffed everything I possibly could into two body-sized duffel bags, and flew out New York City on a ticket in my brother’s name. (This was the mid-90s, long before airport security, and I had a total of $2,000 in savings.)

Though I didn’t have a job or a place to live, moving to New York thrilled me. Here was a place that indefinitely prolonged the period of disorientation, of exploration, of personal reinvention.

This spring, I’ve been reminded of that time in my life while re-reading Siri Hustvedt’s extraordinary novel, The Blindfold, with a group of freshmen I teach. The narrator, a Columbia graduate student named Iris, coolly relates her adventures over the course of her first two or so years in the city.

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Iris works briefly for a man who asks her to tape record intricate descriptions of quotidian object (a dirty glove, a used cotton ball, a mirror) that belonged to a young woman who was murdered in his building.

She poses for a friend who takes a picture that she finds so disturbing that she winds up disavowing her identity when strangers approach and ask whether she is, indeed, that girl in the photograph.

Finally, she begins to dress like a man and wander the city streets at night, protected by her new masculine identity. “[I]n the city it was easy to change my name,” Iris observes, “to be someone else.”

Of course, not all of my students like this book. They find Iris weird, they think she has terrible taste in men, and they’re skeptical of the notion you can slip identities on and off as easily as men’s suits.

To me, however, The Blindfold, is not only a dizzying exploration of what happens when your faith in the big fundamentals (the fixed nature of the self and the stability of language) gets chipped away, but it’s also a tribute to certain slivers of time when anything seems possible and that freedom thrills.

My first two years in New York were not nearly as dramatic as Iris’s, but I did reinvent myself on a weekly and sometimes daily basis: Was I a girl from Idaho, a place as exotic as Tahiti to most urbanites, or an Amherst English major? Was I Rhodes Scholar or a temp? Would I continue being a competitive runner or would I start hanging out in wine bars (the epitome of sophistication to that younger self)?

It’s nice to have choices. Our culture also certainly rewards those who make the right choices and stick with them. But it can be equally important to stand before all those choices and not choose (itself a kind of choice, I know) if only to understand that the way forward is not, and need not be, so clear.

That’s what I love about The Blindfold, and that’s what I’ve tried to capture in some small way in my collection of interconnected stories, The Kissing List.

stephanie-reents-author-photoSTEPHANIE REENTS‘s fiction has been included in the O. Henry Prize Stories, noted in Best American Short Stories, and has appeared in numerous journals. Stephanie has been a Bread Loaf Conference Scholar, a Stegner Fellow, and a Rhodes Scholar. She is an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Kissing List will be available from Hogarth wherever books are sold on May 22, 2012.

  • Valerie Kite

    Sounds like it might be interesting.

  • Katie E. DeGennaro

    I am a student of Professor Reents and she is absolutely amazing! I would love a copy of her book so that I can see the writing she has done herself. She is constantly lending our class her insight on creative writing, What an amazing inspiration! She didn’t even tell us she wrote a book..so humble!

  • Leslie

    I would love to read this book! It sounds like my kind of story!

  • Sarah Colbert

    This book sounds a little to much of rich people who live uninspired lives and want attention and people to feel sorry for them.

  • Nancye Davis

    I am having a senior moment as if feels like I may have inadvertently entered this giveaway twice. If that is the case, please delete. I just want to play fair!

  • Sylvia Belle

    great book

  • SILVANA MOSCATO

    I AM IN IT TO WIN IT!

  • Charlotte Padgett

    this sounds really interesting to me.

  • Donna Clifford

    looks interesting.

  • Marcia Hardell

    This book sounds like an imaginative story….and intriguing how the character changes how people look
    at her…….I would love to read it!

  • luanna mahan

    This seems like it would be a great story.I learn to enjoy reading again thanks to my daughter.We alway share books.This might be a good one for us.

  • amanda

    i am a mommy of three the only me time i get is when they go to bed at night and i read my books i would love to read your book sounds very good thank you!!!!!

  • Jacquelyn Lane

    This book sounds very unique.

  • Katy Holder

    I would really enjoy reading this!

  • Elaine Taunt

    This books sounds very engaging. Would love to read it!

  • michael greenberg

    I would love to surprise my wife with this book. It reads right up her alley.

  • Monique Beaudry

    Would love to win!

  • Jess

    Yay! I won! Thank you RIF!!!

  • Ann

    I just won this book and cannot wait to receive it. I was so lucky!

  • Angie

    Oooh! I got an ARC of this book and it’s great!

  • pavan

    Would love to read this book.

  • SALLY

    I WON A COPY OF THE BOOK MIXED UP FEMALES, LIKE MANY OF US AS WE EXPERIENCE LIFE, JUST HAPPY IT WAS NOT MINE…BOOK WOULD BE BETTER FOR THE 19 -30 AGE GROUP. THANK YOU I’LL PASS THE BOOK ALONG TO THE YOUNGER GROUP.

  • Liz

    I too won this book – thank you RIF! But I will also pass this onto a younger reader. Definately was not for me.

  • Katie

    I could not stop reading it! I wish I could read more about the characters! And it yes, it seems like it is for the younger readers.

  • Marty

    Sorry, but this book is a mistake, as dull as possible, although I did read enough to be sure of that. Try again.

  • Nikki

    I agree with Marty-I FORCED myself to finish this book. And I did not enjoy any bit of it.

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