Thessaly La Force does her surname justice. A cultural dynamo, La Force was the first editor of The Paris Review Daily, and published My Ideal Bookshelf--an illustrated book made in collaboration with artist Jane Mount–this past November. Currently a second year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, La Force is working on a collection of short fiction, The Muse. Today she privileges HENRY to the beginning of her story “Mollino, Mollino, Mollino”.
Tell us about your first encounter with the furniture of Vico Magistretti, and about the interplay between his work and yours.
Well, like so many fiction writers, all I needed to hear was the beginning of a story, a seed, really, and then the idea was planted, and I was off. I remember the moment well. I was meeting my friends Leanne and Andrea for a drink at Wallsé, and Leanne was talking about her search for a particular coffee table, by Vico Magistretti. I remember I went home that night and I just started writing in the voice that had materialized in my head. Leanne eventually did send me a picture of the table. But I can’t even remember the end of Leanne’s story. And it’s better that way. I later asked my friend Tom Delavan, who works in interiors, about the furniture of Vico Magistretti, and he explained the cult of this particular coffee table to me, and how they’re difficult to find. Of course, that only intrigued me more. And recently, I think I remember seeing on Instagram that Sophie Buhai has one, too. So this coffee table feels special. It feels like one of those objects where once you’re aware of its existence, you won’t ever not notice one. Why not write a quest story about finding a great coffee table?
Magistretti and Carlo Mollino pioneered fantastical design–do you share a similar interest in form and structure, about how a narrative’s “container” affects the reader’s relation to the story?
I’ve been told that this story is a rabbit-hole story. Or that it has too many misdirections. I like playing with structure a lot. I still think of myself as a baby writer. I’m probably at that developmental stage where I’m learning how to point at something to get what I want, you know? I remember interviewing Michael Chabon for My Ideal Bookshelf—and he said he can recall believing, while getting his MFA at Irvine in his twenties, that he was in the middle stages of his writing voice, and now he laughs at that assumption, because he really was just at the beginning. Looking back, he can see how far he had to go. I guess what I mean by that anecdote is that writing is a long brew. It can feel precocious and it can flow, but it’s also like the longest marathon ever. I feel like I’m always writing the best I can, and yet, I look at what I wrote a year ago, and I see how its amateur in a way I couldn’t without the distance of time. And so as a young writer, structure is a good form to study in other stories, and it’s a good form to imitate. Ideally, with my collection, I’d love for each story to be structurally different. But we’ll see. I make no promises. That said, it did not occur to me that the furniture itself would inspire any narrative structure, but if someone thinks its happening, I am not beyond taking credit for such an innovation!
Is design an organizing principle of your collection, The Muse? Are the stories in thematic conversation, and in direct conversation as well?
I love design. But I love it as an aficionado. An amateur. And I’m obsessed with aesthetics. And the way in which art making is in dialogue with aesthetics. So my collection is circling around those themes. I have one story about an artist’s muse. Another about a quartet. Another about two painters. Another about a model. Another about a critic. I think they all speak to each other, but they are also simply stories about people, you know? I’m hesitant about declaring one’s own themes as a writer. Sometimes I believe your work is merely a chronological and distorted reflection of you. And you’re lucky if something else emerges from that.
Have you ever gone to great lengths in the pursuit of an object? Is there an object you especially cherish?
All the time. I have daily infatuations. I am obsessive by nature. Obsessive. I wish I had a good story to tell you about how I traveled to the end of the earth to find something, but I’ve got nothing. As for an object I particularly cherish—well, I remember photographing Maira Kalman’s studio for The Paris Review Daily. And I remember seeing that she had the most remarkable collection of miniature chairs by great designers—Gehry, Saarinen, Eames. It was marvelous! She also had a couple normal-sized chairs by great designers, too. Which is endlessly amusing to me. (You could make the mini chair sit in its own chair! You could sit in that chair and hold its mini chair!) Anyway, a year later, as a birthday gift, I received one miniature Eames chair with an ottoman. I love it, it’s so fun to have on my desk, and I like to make my reading glasses sit in it—it’s great. And I recently found these miniature imperial Chinese vases, and so now they stand next to my miniature chair and ottoman, and I like to imagine it’s all part of the office of an impressive shrink on the Upper West Side.
Portrait by Canyon Castator