“To Be a Man” is a new story by Nicole Krauss, adapted from the author’s upcoming story collection of the same name (available November 3). To mark the story’s publication in The Atlantic, Krauss and Thomas Gebremedhin, a former senior editor at the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Thomas Gebremedhin: “To Be a Man” is anchored by two longer stories. The first recounts the narrator’s romantic relationship with a man known as the German Boxer; the second concerns her friend Rafi’s marriage. The two longer stories are told in the third person, but they are bookended by sections of first-person narration, in which the protagonist considers her adolescent sons. When did you first land on this structure, and why does “To Be a Man” require it?
Nicole Krauss: I had that title for many years, but waited until all the other stories in the collection were finished before I wrote it. All along, I knew that I was gathering material and momentum to write something more overtly about manhood, as seen through the eyes of a woman raising sons on the cusp of becoming men, a woman who possesses a lifetime of experience with men—tender, passionate, volatile, sometimes all at once. How to create a structure that can hold together the many layers of her visceral experience of manhood and her perspective on it, leaving the contradictions intact? A structure subtle and shapely enough to allow for associative connections, but loose enough not to tame the mysteries and conflicts, or to strangle the life-flow: That’s what I’m after, whether writing novels or stories. This four-part structure, which begins with the narrator’s father and ends with her sons, and in the middle contains her experience of male lovers and friends, felt like my best shot.