Rafael Yglesias Interview

A Happy Marriage
Rafael Yglesias

A Conversation with Rafael Yglesias:

  1. So much of A Happy Marriage seems inspired by your own life. Which real-life experiences were the most difficult to share with an audience? Is there any part you wish you didn’t mention?

    I'm glad I wrote the novel as frankly as I did, otherwise I think the story would be distorted and lose its value to readers. The most painful parts to describe were the actions, thoughts, and feelings that show how insecure, immature, self-centered and cowardly I can be. I was also embarrassed by writing about some things that reflect well on me. I didn't want readers to think I was asking to be praised for taking care of my wife while she was ill. Lots of people are heroic, more heroic than I was, when faced with the suffering of someone they love.

  2. Why did you decide to structure the novel with chapters alternating between Enrique and Margaret’s first few weeks together and their last?

    Relationships, it seems to me, are timeless. What works between two people always works, what doesn't is always troublesome. Over time, people learn – or not – how to negotiate what's difficult, but that doesn't mean the misfit has gone away entirely. I also wrote chapters that drop the reader into the middle of the marriage during one or two of its crises. I did so because relationships, I feel, are not lived chronologically, but are conflicts and resolutions, ecstasies and disappointments that are answered and assuaged across the years.

  3. Enrique believes “writers were liars…when it came to such things, making black villains of those who disappointed or slighted them, and heroes of themselves” (pg. 87). Do you ever find that this description pertains to you, as well?

    I hope not in this novel. I was trying as hard as I could to avoid that pitfall.

  4. From Balzac to Dickens to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, you mention several famous authors throughout your novel. Whose work has meant the most to you as a person and a writer?

    Tolstoy is probably the writer that I most admired during my formative years. In general I was influenced by the 19th century realists, whether it be the sentimental Dickens, the satirical Mark Twain, the pulpy Zola, the sensual Balzac, or mad Dostoevsky. The almost missionary zeal with which they detail the psychology of their characters and reveal the material secrets of the society in which they lived, have always been more thrilling to me than the most elegant sentence.

  5. In addition to writing novels, you’re also a screenwriter. Are you planning on adapting more of your novels into films? If you do so for A Happy Marriage, do you have any actors in mind?

    No, I'd prefer to keep them separate from now on. As to A Happy Marriage, I don't think I'd be a good choice to adapt it. I didn't think of actors. I wanted Enrique and Margaret to be the people I knew.

  6. Your novel spans nearly thirty years of life in New York City. How do you think New York has changed over the decades? Do you prefer the 1970s version of the city or today’s?

    New York is a much more bourgeois city, more of a tourist attraction than a muscular metropolis. It's lost moxie and a rough energy, while gaining grace and friendliness. I love both versions of the city, but I wish the prosperous Manhattan would become a little easier for young people to afford. I may get this wish, perhaps at too great a price for working people, however.

  7. What is the most important piece of advice you can share with couples hoping to have “a happy marriage”?

    Don't have any. To me, people's lives and loves are entwined with their characters, natures and circumstances. I regard all general advice with skepticism.

  8. All of the characters are multi-faceted, which means they have flaws, too – some of them significant. Do you ever worry that a reader might dislike your protagonist, or is that not important?

    I'm sure there are people who will dislike my protagonist. But lying about him wouldn't allow me to achieve what I wanted: an intimate portrait of a life-long relationship. I've never met a person without flaws.

  9. Like Enrique, you dropped out of high school to write a critically-acclaimed novel. Do you imagine your life would be drastically different if you stayed in school?

    Yes. For at least four years I would have had a peer group, and I would have been able to live without the pressure of earning a living and being judged on my work as if I were an adult. I would have been able to just be for a while. That would have made a great difference. But it's futile to wish to be someone other than who you are. There are things I've done, because I made the mistake of not staying in school, that I'm glad I did. One of them was that I met my wife.

  10. Why did you decide to write a novel that reflects so much of the pain you lived through with your own wife’s cancer? How has sharing such a personal story affected you?

    Illness and death are a part of life and they're a part of every long relationship. Because my wife had to face her death, and say goodbye to all the things and people she loved, our relationship ended in a way that wasn't, however, an end to our relationship. Writing the novel became the way I grieved for her and for our marriage. I hoped that telling of her bravery and clarity, and how people reacted to her would be useful to readers; and that it would illuminate, as it did for me, the value of the years we had together.