When Elle Nash’s debut novella, Animals Eat Each Other, was published in 2019, it announced the arrival of an exciting talent not afraid to examine the darker corners of human existence. Her follow-up short story collection, Nudes, expands on many of the themes and ideas of that debut, introducing us to a memorable cast of new characters – people who rarely find representation on the page.
It’s a collection that proves Elle Nash is a writer to revere, and SNACK spoke to the author ahead of the publication of Nudes.
How do you describe Nudes to people?
People often think that my work is about me. Whether or not it is, I let people infer for themselves, but I was intrigued by the idea of a collection that felt like an exposure. When someone sends you a nude, it’s the ultimate act of trust. They’re not only exposing themselves to you, but they’re trusting you to not expose them to others. They’re giving you something vulnerable and saying treasure this. I suppose that’s how I would describe Nudes. As an exposé.
It’s a collection where the stories work together, feeding into one another, with the characters appearing to exist in a shared world. Was that something you wanted to achieve, or is it simply a result of the people and places you wanted to represent?
I didn’t necessarily think about it as I was writing it. I’ve never thought that deeply about my work; or maybe I used to and the last two years of burnout have left me empty. What happens is I feel compelled; my head gets full of experiences and atmospheres and feelings, scenes, and flits of touch and prose and dialogue. I just want to figure out how to put it on the page, for some reason. And I spent a lot of time living in the American South thinking about the experiences there and the way that flyover country is so often misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalised. You write about people who all too rarely appear in fiction, particularly working class women.
What did you want to explore through the lives of your characters?
Mostly, I’m just so damn tired of reading about upper-middle-class women from New York City who don’t necessarily have to think about how they’re going to survive the next month of their lives, who don’t have to think about where their next paycheck is coming from, who complain about being broke when they have access to education and the ability to be emotionally or financially independent.
I also am very drawn to the tectonic landscape of emotion that tends to exist between people who don’t have the luxury or time to consider the philosophical implications of their existence. I wanted to explore sadness and sex and drama from a different vantage point, one that hadn’t been wrung through academia. People tend to wear their big cities like a fashion accessory. I wanted to show something different.
What appeals to you about the short story as a form?
I love the short story because it’s much more satisfying, immediately, than a novel. I don’t have to do too much planning. But at the same time you have to be very economical in your language. A short story can grab you the way a song or the way a poem can, which is just something that a novel really can’t do.
A novel can be atmospheric, but you have to sustain it. A novel is more like an orchestra, whereas a short story is like a three-piece band writing a hit. It can just be an experience that washes over you. A novel, sometimes you have to work for. In order to do that you have to achieve staying within the fictive dream, and it can be a challenge sometimes. When I’m working on a short story it’s a little bit like solving a puzzle – there’s something really satisfying when a metaphor or a sentence just clicks the right way. But it takes work, and it takes time, and patience.
A lot of your references set the tone and time of your stories, which also further links them. Is that an important part of this collection? Is there a sense of nostalgia involved, or are there other reasons?
I pretty much lived in nostalgia for a long time as a way to escape my reality. I’m an escapist by nature. Though lately I have found myself less nostalgic about the past and more just thinking about the multiverse. What other lives have I been leading? Can I know them?
Will I ever feel or experience them? There’s too much possibility and it’s painful not to have all of it.
With such a cast of memorable characters, do you think you will return to any of them in the future?
The secret of Nudes is that two of the characters from one of the short stories are now the main characters of my forthcoming novel, Deliver Me, from Unnamed Press next year.
What is next for you in terms of writing, or is it too early to say?
I don’t think it’s too early to say. I have my novel coming out next year, and as far as what’s next after that, I just hope I can continue to cultivate my writing the way I do any other habit. I’ve been focusing a lot on meditation and self-development, but sadly my daily discipline of writing has fallen by the wayside recently. Cultivation: that’s what’s next.