SARAH WANG: The Interior Circuit is both a deeply personal memoir that takes place five years after Aura’s death, and an account of the shifting politics of Mexico City. The book is part love story, part political reportage, framed by an Oulipian-like constraint of navigating the city while learning to drive. How did this book come together?
FRANCISO GOLDMAN: The seed of this book was in a magazine article I was talking about writing for The New Yorker. I was going to do the driving project as a piece for them. The summer of 2012 became an incredibly intense summer. I had had a few really rough years. I felt like I was dragging a heavy weight behind me. I felt imprisoned by it. I just couldn’t free myself of it. I was afraid of time passing. There was a sense that I had to make time move again. Time had stopped moving. Nothing ever changed.
This book emerged because I wasn’t ready to go back to fiction. I had a form of survivor’s guilt, I suppose. For me, writing imaginary fiction is an ideal. If I could write The Hobbit, I would. I felt like I didn’t have permission to do that again yet. I always want to write novels but, in the last decade especially, reality is always intruding into my life. Aura’s death was the boulder that crushed that impulse to live in an imagined reality. Annie Proulx once wondered if I would ever be able to not write about Aura again. But I felt I owed Aura another book.
A lot of important things happened in my life during that summer, including finally being in a relationship again, falling in love again. It was also a hugely transformative summer in the history of contemporary Mexico with incredible repercussions for Mexico City. That summer I was living very intensely.
Say Her Name came out in Spanish in 2012, and it was really a big hit in Mexico. It was a crazy thing; and it wasn’t easy for my girlfriend. I was constantly giving interviews about Aura. I was traveling to other parts of Latin America too, and I had to fly back to New York to teach my classes throughout the fall semester. I knew I wasn’t going to be doing any writing in the fall. Then in the winter, a cataclysm occurred. My girlfriend suddenly left me. It was a complete shock. It plunged me into a state of despair. It was as if all those trauma symptoms — my mind knew it wasn’t the same, but my body didn’t — all that craziness, the inability to sleep, all that bedlam inside me came flooding back.
The first half of the book chronicles the summer of 2012, when the driving project took place. I am reminded of a quote from Maurice Blanchot, which I can only partially recall. But he said something like — you have to allow yourself to become weary, you have to be brought back to a place where you’re weary. This is the condition of writing. This is the condition of possibility.
In some ways, it sounds like this is what happened to you that summer, hitting a nadir and reaching a threshold.
I knew that I couldn’t fall back into the abyss again. I couldn’t fall back into the abyss of loss that ruined my life for five years, and I couldn’t fall back into the self-destructive chaos — the march to the nadir as you say — that defined so much of that summer. I pulled myself out of it. I told myself, I’m not going to let this happen. It’s time to write this thing. I felt like I had finally emerged from the cave of grief, from the solipsism of grief, from the murk of grief. I had finally gotten onto a constructive path. I had finally begun to embrace life again and feel productive, like I was all right and in control of myself. I told myself, I’m going to write my way out of this. I’m going to do it by retracing my steps of the summer of 2012, by mapping my steps, mapping the ways in which I managed to recover myself from grief. And that’s what the first half of the book in so many ways is. It was a celebratory story fought onto a good path. I re-embraced life. I experienced a reawakening.
Mexico City was the setting, the place. It was an important part of everything that was happening to me. I finished the first half of the book the summer of 2012. And at that point I was thinking, let’s go ahead and publish this with the magazine pieces that Grove wanted me to publish in a book [a few previously published articles, including a New Yorker piece on the children of the disappeared in Argentina], but those pieces didn’t seem to have that much to do with what I’d already written. Then I looked around and realized that if in some ways what I’d written was a celebration of Mexico City — written with a kind of innocence, with a kind of romance; I was in thrall to the romance of the city — the city was changing right under my nose, changing in dangerous ways, or at least in ways I felt challenged to understand and chronicle.