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Three Questions for Hortense Calisher

June 02, 2002|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

Question: How did you research your novel?

Answer: For a writer like me, and my ilk, you live your life, listen to the world and look. For the novel "Mysteries of Motion" about six civilians on a spaceship, I did read up on NASA and had a line drawing of the vehicle and the names of its parts. The rest? Imagination. The science editor of the New York Times said he couldn't fault it. I trust to luck. Research would kill it.

Q: Among New York's many status symbols, what are your personal favorites?

A: I collect shoes and have some marvels, but they are to admire and wear. Most artists would locate their symbols of greatness in the arts. New York has that in all directions. And "status" in general is shifting here, always. It is laughed at too, if it is rigid. But if you press me, well, I like the Hudson River on which I have often lived. And the lions--at the New York Public Library.

Q: Were you trying to paint an accurate portrait of upper-middle-class Jews in New York?

A: No. In "The New Yorkers," which has both rich and poor, I did have a lot to say about the "middle." "Sunday Jews" portrays a sector of the "assimilated." Though it is not about my family, I and mine have been that, and in this nation, for a long time. Yet we still are Jews, I altogether, some of us in part. My father used to read the Hebrew lessons in a Virginian drawl. I used to wonder how he could be so proudly Jewish and Southern at the same time. "Sunday Jews" contains many reflections on just that: proud assimilation--without orthodoxy (as E.M. Forster said: Only Connect).

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