“Broken People” author Sam Lansky discusses intimacy and loneliness in the gay community: NPR

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NPR’s Noel King talks to author Sam Lansky about his novel, Broken people. Located in Los Angeles, it weaves the themes of isolation, body image and addiction among gay men.



NOEL KING, HOST:

If someone promised you that they could fix everything in your house – your anxiety, your insecurity, your sadness – in three days, would you agree? In Sam Lansky’s new novel “Broken People,” the main character says yes – yes to self-help, New Age meditation, and yes to a possibly shady shaman to hire. The yes takes him on a winding and fun journey through Los Angeles and through his mind. In the novel, Lansky examines what it means for a gay man to struggle with body image, loneliness, and addiction, all of which Sam Lansky also knows.

SAM LANSKY: I would say I put a lot of effort into this character and this book. I think inviting the reader to make comparisons between me as the author and Sam as the protagonist of this book seemed like a way to tackle one of the big ideas that I was really interested in. to write, which was how our own tendency to tell stories about ourselves can be both a truly liberating and empowering thing and also a self-limiting thing.

KING: The story that Sam the character tells himself that is self-contained is that he’s no good. He doesn’t love himself. He always feels in his place. He is convinced that others do not like him. He is ultimately a very lonely character.

LANSKY: You know, I had the experience of writing my first book, which was a memoir called “The Golden Razor,” which I thought I was writing this book and I had the opportunity to write this book in the first place because my story was really unique, like, it was really unique. You know, I had those colorful teenage years and these high school mishaps were kind of a terror, running through New York City. And when the book came out, the great privilege that I had was to have readers saying, you know, even though the details weren’t the same, that’s how I felt. I identify with that – especially with other people in recovery.

So, with this book, I approached it with what I had learned from that first experience, which is to write in great detail about specific emotional states – to feel out of place, not to feeling enough, feeling insecure – which I think so many of us have had or continue to experience felt as an opportunity to reach people and hopefully provide them with the comfort of knowing that they are not alone.

KING: It makes me wonder, Sam, who your we are. Are these millennials? It is a very thousand-year-old book. Are they gay men? Are they young homosexuals? Talk about who the we are on your mind.

LANSKY: You know my hope is that there is some kind of universal reach to this feeling of us that so many people, no matter who you are, can connect with the feeling of not feeling enough.

KING: Is that why Sam’s character – at the heart of his self-hatred, in many ways, is his weight, is something people might think, well, that’s a trifle. Why does this guy feel so bad about himself because he’s a few extra pounds? Why make this concern for his weight so central to Sam’s identity and self-hatred?

LANSKY: Part of my story is that I got sober when I was very young. I got sober at the age of 19 after a very eventful chapter as a teenager. And part of my recovery journey that I think anyone with mental health issues is sort of learning a new language, right? You develop vocabulary, whether it is the vocabulary of self-help culture or 12-step therapy or recovery.

Much of it jumped over the body. It took me eight or nine years to recover until I was able to step back and realize all of these things that had been happening. All of these, you know, self-harming patterns, these kinds of passive modes of self-harm was actually coming from this place where, like, I don’t know what I’m doing in this body. Like, I just feel really bad about it. I get a really deep kind of dysphoria, like, what am I doing in there?

You know there’s a joke in the book where Sam, you know, asks a friend, why did I have to be born in a body? Why couldn’t I have been born in, you know, haunted armor or …

KING: Yeah (laughs).

LANSKY: … Like, a cursed gem that’s haunted a wealthy family for generations? And I’ve had that thought so many times, that, you know, I was really uncomfortable being embodied. And it’s a vocabulary that is not the one I learned.

KING: There’s a central proposition in this book, isn’t there? Sam learns of a shaman who claims he can fix what’s wrong with people in three days, and Sam is skeptical. He decides he’s going to go anyway. You’ve obviously done a lot of work, and you’ve been recovering for many years. And anyone who’s been recovering will tell you it’s a daily process. It is not easy. And so I’m struck that your character takes the kind of help that says, give me three days and I can make anything better. It’s surprising.

LANSKY: You know, I think it’s really natural and really human to want some kind of drastic change, you know, or to want to accelerate growth in some way. And I think that’s a really enticing proposition, you know, and one that really interested me. Without spoiling anything, you know, I think one of the central themes of the book is this tale of breaking or needing to be fixed and the ways in which it’s such a slippery slope and can be so delusional and it is really a self-enriching proposition, you know, and challenging the idea, which I think our culture benefits from.

KING: If anyone were to ask me to characterize this book, I would say, with the greatest compliments, that it is ultimately a love story. What do you think? Is this a fair qualification?

LANSKY: There are kind of a couple love stories layered in this book. That was my intention as a writer. I think a big part of love is learning to surrender and let go, and surrender is a big theme of this book as well. And so it’s a story that, you know, tells again what I think is a pretty basic lesson, but I think a lot of people, including me, have a hard time remembering is that it’s very hard to love someone else fully, really, you know, with a big, wide open heart if you haven’t done the job of learning to love yourself.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG LORDE, “LE LOUVRE”)

KING: It was Sam Lansky, the author of “Broken People”, which comes out this week.

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