The Millions

What Makes Me Catch My Breath: Erika Swyler in Conversation with Adrienne Celt

I first met Adrienne Celt at the Tucson Festival of Books, where, after watching her befriend a macaw, I knew I needed to know her better. We’d both written novels involving family secrets and the same Slavic folklore. The Daughters went on to win the 2015 Pen Southwest Book Award. I devoured it in a day. Her writing is effortless and elegant and feels like eavesdropping on someone at the exact moment they reveal themselves. She’s also ridiculously funny. In her newest novel, Invitation to a Bonfire, she turns her attention to a dangerous affair inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s marriage. It’s fierce, daring, and had me rethinking how to read Nabokov. I had the pleasure of chatting over email with Adrienne about Nabokov, political rage, fabulism, and of course, sex.

Erika Swyler: With Invitation to a Bonfire you’re drawing from—at times audaciously channeling—Nabokov. What was it like to work with his style, which could be both reverential and damning of all things female?

Ha. I was eager to be both reverential and damning of Nabokov, so it felt natural? That sounds glib, but I’ve adored Nabokov, reverently, for my entire adult life, and yet this book came from a place of sudden rage at discovering that he’d had an affair (well, probably many affairs, but one especially significant one) and quickly thereafter a desire to get even. I spent a long time believing that the way he cherished was a kind of atonement for the level to which she gave

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