Here in America, the young-man-coming-of-age novel is very well represented, but the female version of that is less so

Interview of Rachel Khong by Lara Touitou (July 18, 2017)

Rachel Khong is a writer and editor for the late magazine Lucky Peach. Goodbye, Vitamin is her first novel.

You write for various publications, including the late Lucky Peach magazine, and Goodbye, Vitamin is your first novel. What made you take the leap to fiction?

The chronology is a little deceiving, but I wrote fiction long before I ever started working at Lucky Peach. Reading novels as a kid was the reason I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t come to nonfiction until a little bit later, when I realized I would have to make a living somehow. Writing was the only thing I was any good at, and writing for newspapers and magazines seemed like a reasonable way to make a living. I was a features editor at my high school newspaper, then an arts & entertainment editor at my college weekly; I’ve written, in the past, about music and books and movies. But fiction was what drew me to writing in the first place, and it’s something I’ve continued to do ever since I was five or six, obsessed with my chapter books.

Learning to part, whether it is with family members or significant others, is central to the novel, mostly through the character of Ruth, the daughter. Why did you choose to have her as the protagonist?

Ruth was the main character of a short story I’d written, and I liked writing in her voice so much that I wanted to keep writing in it. While it’s true that each of the book’s characters has a lot going on, and I could have chosen any of them as the novel’s main character, Ruth’s particular story of being a young woman at a crossroads, trying to figure out her next move, was the most fascinating to me. Here in America, the young-man-coming-of-age novel is very well represented, but the female version of that is less so. I personally love to read those stories, and want more of them to exist in the world, so that’s another reason the story I wanted to tell was Ruth’s.

What made you settle on the diary form for the novel?

The book spans a year, and to me, is all about moments, rather than any plot or narrative. So instead of writing the book in a more traditional way, with chapters, I wanted to break it up into smaller sections that reflected day-to-day life: sometimes the drudgery, other times the beauty. I don’t think of it as a diary so much as an account of what happened.

Part of what makes the novel such a sweet read despite the subject matter is how suffused with energy the atmosphere and the characters are, especially through their relation to food, and shared meals are often the setting of scenes in which characters come together or apart. When you set out to write this novel, was it crucial to you that food would be such a meaningful element and link between the characters? Do you feel that your work at Lucky Peach informed your writing in this novel?

It wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, so this is a little bit of a chicken-and-egg question. I’ve always been interested in food—eating, cooking, and thinking about it—and my work at Lucky Peach came about because of that interest. Though I never set out to make food a focus of this book, my interest in food continues, and so it absolutely has a presence, in exactly the ways you describe. Again, for me, the novel’s focus is in day-to-day life, and in moments, and one regular activity all of us engage in, every day, is eating. We all have to eat.

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