Authors and Editors in Conversation Jonathan Galassi: Rebecca, lots of people are going to be asking, Where did this all come from? I mean: a fly. I mean: a Jew in 18th-century France becoming a fly here and now. We’re well beyond the bounds of realism here. Can you tell us what the first kernels of Jacob’s Folly were, and where you found them? Rebecca Miller: The first thing I wrote was in the spring of 2008. It was the moment where “reliable, true” Leslie Senzatimore, the volunteer fireman, is peeing on his front lawn as the moon sets. So all I had was this big, very good man peeing at dawn—and then I saw a creature above him, nestled in the sky—some kind of demon or sprite, a mischievous soul stuck as if between two harp strings in some sort of transmigration accident, laughing down at him. So I started with a human and a low-order divinity. This spirit/human dichotomy had been fascinating to me since I was a small child and used to stare and stare at my mother’s tiny Mexican earthenware chapel that contained a few people praying, a priest blessing them, and the devil laughing down at them all from the roof. For some reason this little object fascinated me and I would spend hours staring at the praying people, and then up at the laughing devil. The irony of the situation, the fact that the people had no idea the devil was there, and the mirth of the devil, was fascinating and a little terrifying to me, maybe because it implied that nothing was as it seemed. That little object opened me up to the void, the mystery behind the material world.
by Rebecca Miller I started with one image: a fireman peeing on his front lawn, at the moment between night and dawn, just as the darkness began to drain from the sky. I knew his last name was Senzatimore. I had known a young man with that name—he was, in fact, the assistant editor on my last film—and the grandeur of the name bewitched me. Senzatimore means “without fear” in Italian. It has an aura of the Middle Ages, of our more primitive, real selves, when names could be wishes, or properties of being, and had not devolved to mere accidents of birth. I wanted my man to be a kind of Titan because then his fall—the fall my hunch told me was coming in the story—would be all the more meaningful. And another element came to me as I wrote Leslie Senzatimore peeing on his front lawn: a spirit creature, some mischievous, malevolent entity, which at the time I saw as a soul frozen between lives like a spat-out chunk of bread stuck between two harp strings. I saw him looking down on Leslie, and laughing.