Alison Lurie

Original Publication – Newsweek, August 5, 1974

Alison Lurie likes to read case histories of deviants – “You know, the nuts-and-sluts school that’s no longer fashionable. I like to know what makes people act the way they do, exactly how a man feels before and after he’s murdered his wife – and when he buries her in the basement what kind of shovel he used.” But she is not a fan of whodunits. “I don’t like the invention,” she says. “I want the raw data.”

For “The War Between the Tates” Lurie picked up a lot of raw data on the campus of Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., where she teaches creative writing and her husband is an English professor. The mother of three sons, she insists that her own marriage is not the model for the book: “All my characters come from four or five other people. I began to think of the book when I noticed there were a lot of left-over women around Cornell. Their husbands had left them for younger women, usually students.”

Skinny: Lurie grew up in Westchester County, New York, the daughter of a sociology professor who was once a Jewish-welfare administrator. “I get my interest in class and group dynamics from him,” she told NEWSWEEK’s Maureen Orth. “I’ve always been writing. I was one of those skinny, plain, clever little girls who were put ahead a grade, and I was no good at hockey so I made up for it by writing poems in the mimeographed school newspaper.” She graduated from Radcliffe, spent a year working in New York for a publishing house, then married and began to write novels in the various college towns where her husband studied and taught.

Her fifth novel has prompted critics to comapre her to Jane Austen, but Lurie scoffs at the suggestion. “I’m not as good a writer, “ she says, “and it isn’t helpful. It implies that I’m only interested in upper-middle-class academics when there are so many starving people in the world. I’m not imaginative about investning scenes of starvation in India like some historical novelists. So I have the people in my novels remark on such matters from time to time. Even in Ithaca,” she smiles, “reports have reached me that things elsewhere are not well.”

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

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