BY MEREDITH ALLING
The latest chapbook from Future Tense Books is Szilvia Molnar's Soft Split. I read "Soft Split" sitting in a wooden chair in the corner of my living room with my leg muscles tensed, my mouth watering. Written in first person, the book follows a nameless female protagonist as she escapes from her unfulfilling day-to-day into psychosexual dream states. This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most provocative stories I've read in a long time, so I was really excited to talk to Szilvia. We chatted over e-mail about desire, dreams, dirty books, and the truth.
MA: When I was reading Soft Split, I paused at the part where you wrote: What's going on with this forever thirst? I feel forever thirsty. I love this moment of self-awareness, because there is so much desire in the book--so much lust and eagerness and frustration. And while a lot of it is framed by sex, it also feels like it's about the desire to embody one's full self in all of its complexities.
SM: That's certainly present. I don't think it was until I finished an early version of Soft Split that I realized the main character also had an underlying desire to become genuine to herself. She's struggling in the real world, with her office job and in her marriage, both are restricting and suffocating her. It's through this other dreamlike state she gets to explore the depth of her desires. And I think one aspect in being more true to yourself is to ask yourself: What kind of sexual being am I? What do I like? What makes me feel most alive? Nobody can ever teach or tell you what you like, that's something you decide. But then, of course, not all dream states are sexy and sweet. You also have to tackle your demons in order to understand who you are, which is also something she needs to do.
MA: It’s interesting that she's experiencing this sort of sexual awakening that involves women while being married to a man who is cheating on her. How much do you think that infidelity plays into her embrace of these desires?
SM: Quite a bit. It's so upsetting to be excluded from your partner's emotional and sexual world/mindset, and also discover that they're not interested in listening to your needs. I wanted to create this kind of frustrating limbo state for the main character. But she doesn't necessarily take responsibility for her own emotional cheating. I hope it's possible to get the feeling that she's deliberately escaping into these dream states and not just accept being pulled into them.
MA: I know that a lot of Soft Split came from dreams you were having then writing down. What's your position on dreams? Are they just random moments/thoughts from our day dancing around in our consciousness, or something deeper/more enlightening?
SM: It's different for everyone, but dreams seem to try to help me process all the bullshit data my mind takes in. Everything I see and experience that day comes down into a funnel, but if there's something not quite right simmering underneath in my life that I'm not acknowledging, it usually shows its nasty head in my dreams. It can be really painful because you can't control your nightmares but it can also be a good way to listen to what your mind and body is saying about your life. Do you dream?
MA: I do dream, and a lot of my dreams are really anxiety-inducing. Like I'll wake up and have this horrible feeling because of something that happened in the dream, and this is probably because it's something I'm avoiding thinking about when I'm awake. When I was little, I had this recurring nightmare that I was inside a rainbow-colored cylinder filled with knives, and it would start spinning and cutting me and I'd cry for help but none of the people outside of the cylinder (it was in a crowded room) could hear me. So there's that.
SM: Oh man. I can't believe the cylinder was rainbow-colored. That really adds to the anxiety-inducing elements of the dream. That's what's also so wonderfully fucked up about dreams: It's one thing that knives started cutting you, but how could we possibly figure out why the cylinder was rainbow-colored?!
MA: Yeah. I haven’t dug deep on that one yet.
I say this as a compliment: this is a dirty, dirty little book. There's a lot of sex, a lot of bodily fluids, John Goodman "counter-shits" on the protagonist at one point, there's a volcanic vagina. It's glorious. Have your parents/family read this book?
SM: Ha, there’s no denying that it's dirty. Funnily enough, once I was more or less finished with Soft Split, I told the publisher (Kevin Sampsell at Future Tense Books) that I was just scratching the surface of writing filth. I haven't sent my parents a copy of the book because I don't have the need to make them uncomfortable. Sex was never discussed in our home so it doesn't seem to exist between us (it's crazy, but what can you do). They're more than welcome to get it on their own, but it's up to them to see if they can deal with one of their favorite actors counter-shitting on a person. But I did send Soft Split to my two brothers because we're much closer and one of them, D, was sweet about it. Sure he was surprised by how dirty it was, but he was also proud of me. Do you read a lot of dirty books? Or, do you think there are enough (good) dirty books out there? I'm always on the lookout.
MA: I actually don't, but that's not a deliberate decision. I just don't come across a whole lot of them for whatever reason. Last year, I read Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water, and it was really the first time I'd read a female author write so rawly about sex and the female body. I loved it. All the fluids. That book made me feel fucking strong.
SM: Oooh thanks for the tip. I haven't read her yet. I'm reading Agota Kristof right now and sometimes she is despicably dirty, but with a kind of minimal language that ends up creating this intense effect. It's upsetting to read (therefore brilliant).
MA: When I think about the main character in Soft Split, I think of her as really powerful--full of life. Yet, a lot of that power is only being exerted internally. On the outside, she's stuck in this shitty job and this dicey marriage. Tell me if I'm wrong, but it feels like there's a feminist message here.
SM: I'm struggling to answer your question. I want it to have a feminist message and happy to agree with anyone who thinks it has one, but that wasn't why I started writing the story. Or maybe it was all along but subconsciously. Or maybe that's what it ended up being. Either way, I'm proud of it. What message do you see in it?
MA: Well, I think there's a lot of aspects to the book that made me see it as feminist. For one, it's a bold statement about women as sexual beings with their own wants and desires. There's also such power in this woman, and yet she's still stuck, restricted--sort of restrained in her real life, which is why she's escaping into these dream states. To me there's a message here about the simultaneous prescribed impotence and real power of womanhood.
SM: You're totally right, but I guess I wasn't ready for that kind of reaction (from anyone, really). It's strange to me how writing honestly about a woman's own desire and needs can still be a bold statement today, or even be shocking to some people. I've also had people (I guess acquaintances) tell me that they're so surprised that there's so much masturbation in the text. I just think that's hilarious. It's kind of a, "You want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH" kind of thing. But it makes it all the more fun to be honest. It also makes it clear to me that we're still not there yet. How women can express sexual desires (or the fact that women have them!) is still not accepted as fully and obviously as it has been for that other type of gender we like to turn to for "universal" representation. And there's not a single line in Soft Split that's shocking (to me) for the sake of shock value. I was aiming to describe a certain kind of honesty and see how far it could take me.
Meredith Alling is a writer and nonprofit project manager living in Los Angeles. Her works appears or is forthcoming in No Tokens, The Fanzine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her website is meredithalling.com and she is on Twitter @meremyth.
Szilvia Molnar is the author of the chapbook Soft Split, published by Future Tense Books (September 2015). Her prose and poetry have been published in Two Serious Ladies, Electric Cereal, Little Brother, and The Buenos Aires Review, among others. Her artwork has been published by Girls Get Busy, Flavorwire, Jezebel and Icon – El Pais. They are also collected here: szilmolnar.tumblr.com.