Who Sinks? Who Rises Up Again? An Interview with Lee Hope
(originally published at Fiction Writers Review)
I have been an admirer of Lee Hope’s fiction for many years. Her widely published short stories are intricately balanced and fearlessly honest in their psychological and moral complexity. More than that, I am grateful to count her among my writer friends, those to whom I show work in progress, to whom I can go and yell “Help!” when I’ve written myself into a corner. For the past several years we have also been colleagues at Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, founded by Lee, and where she serves as editor-in-chief and I edit nonfiction. Not long ago, when my second memoir, Love & Fury (Beacon Press, 2014), was published, she interviewed me in the magazine.
Over the years I have heard Lee read portions of Horsefever at writers conferences and literary festivals and witnessed audiences become entranced, stunned, and excited by what she lays bare in the novel: the hungers and terrors that drive not only her characters but all of us listening. Based on an actual murder case, the novel traces two couples whose passions, jealousies, and mistrust place them on a collision course. Set in the world of horse eventing, the story is also a deep exploration of the special and complicated relationship between animal and rider, a relationship that is sensual, tenuous, personal, and intimate.
I have waited for the day when Lee’s novel would find its way to readers, and so when New Rivers Press decided to publish it, I jumped at the chance to interview her.
Richard Hoffman: Let’s start by simply sketching in the story a bit. I’d like you to do so because I’m afraid I’d spoil it for readers, give something away.
Lee Hope: The story was inspired, as you mentioned, by an actual murder case, which fascinated me because it was about two marriages and their deadly entanglement. One of my protagonists, Nikki, takes the risk of eventing horses, which includes jumping them cross-country, where many riders break bones, risk death. But fear holds her back from winning, so her husband, Cliff, a wealthy Vermont landowner, hires Gabe, a gifted former eventer, as her trainer.
The job gives Gabe, who was half paralyzed in a jumping accident, hopes for succeeding vicariously through Nikki, and their connection allows both of them to renew a spiritual connection with horses. But before long, a powerful physical attraction develops. As Nikki moves to higher levels of competition, their respective spouses, Cliff and Carla, grow jealous and join forces. The two couples become lost in a tangle of suspicion and ambition leading to violence and it consequences.
RH: You already know how much I love this book, so let me start off by telling you that, for me, Gabe is the most compelling character in the novel. I see Gabe as an incredibly deep and complicated character. His zen-like stillness is cultivated to the point where he is tuned-in to the horse’s hypersensitivity to danger, to the horse’s fear.
LH: That’s interesting that you are so drawn to Gabe. I think my favorite is Cliff.
RH: Cliff? How so?
LH: He’s mysterious to me; the way he holds in his feelings, what he does not say. His mask. Even though Cliff is one of the four point of view characters, he is still often cryptic because he is a puzzle even to himself. Because he represses, he cannot utter his love, even when Nikki, his wife, asks him to. She cannot, after all, force Cliff to say what he cannot or will not admit even to himself. In spite of his wealth and success, his passionate withholding propels others to rebel.
So what draws you more to Gabe?
RH: Gabe’s exquisite empathy, connected to his own injury and the lessons he’s taken from it, makes him a peerless trainer and a masterful coach. But such an intense ability to read another’s emotions comes with an increased responsibility for one’s behavior and a vigilant awareness of one’s own fear and desire. I even think, by the way, that the novel serves to remind us that those are two sides of the same coin.
LH: So your implication is that fear and desire are two sides of the same coin?
RH: I think the novel produced that insight in me, suggested it to me. I don’t know. Do you think that’s true?
LH: Well, yes, fear can be a motivating force in desire; the desire to be one with another sexually can be inspired by fear. The desire for union, or just for sex…we can flee toward or away from the object of our desire.
But fear can be good. For horses, beasts of prey, fear is a survival instinct. Horses have survived as a species since prehistoric times through fear. And we humans survive through fear, too. Or aggression. Fight or flight. Horsefever is partly about fear and desire leading to aggression.
Read the full interview at Fiction Writers Review.