Jenny Jackson on her debut novel 'Pineapple Street'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
"Pineapple Street" - the novel, not the actual street in Brooklyn Heights - is a comedy of manners set among people who live in storied limestone homes, have prenups, set out tablescapes, summer between the Clintons and the Obamas, do good, sometimes conspicuously so, send their children to fancy schools, have their family names on libraries, try to keep up and keep current and be something to someone. That last can be the hardest of all. "Pineapple Street" is the debut novel from Jenny Jackson, vice president and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf. She joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
JENNY JACKSON: Thank you for having me. And that was such a wonderful introduction.
SIMON: Well, I loved the novel. Tell us about the three main characters, because the novel follows the lives of what I'll refer to as the three Stocktons.
JACKSON: Sure. So the novel is the story of three women in the Stockton family. Darley is the oldest sister, and Darley is a mother of two young children, and she's given up her career in finance to take care of her kids and is grappling with what that means for her. And then second, we have Georgiana, who is the baby of the Stockton family. And Georgiana is just this delightful brat. Georgiana is spoiled but doesn't realize she's spoiled. She works at a not-for-profit, and she thinks that this means that she's really doing good in the world. But she's pretty much flailing. And then last we have Sasha. And Sasha is the in-law. Sasha has married their brother, Cord. Sasha is an artist from Rhode Island who finds herself living in this massive limestone on Pineapple where nobody really wants her.
SIMON: How do they strike a balance between what we would now call privilege these days and doing something good in the world?
JACKSON: Well, I think at the beginning of the book, none of them are at all striking a balance. They are oblivious to much of their privilege or in some ways they feel burdened by their privilege, which is actually even worse. Over the course of the novel, Georgiana has a moral reckoning, and she begins to think about what her money might be able to do in the world. Her understanding of what money can do - i.e. give it away, give to foundations, become a philanthropist - is in some ways a little simple and shallow, but it's a great first step towards becoming good.
SIMON: Let me ask you about a party scene and to read from it. Georgiana is invited to a Russian dancehall in Brighton Beach. The group gets together on a bus. She sits next to, I think it was, a grade school acquaintance named Curtis, who says - notices all the people in the room from Brooklyn Heights or perhaps the Upper East Side, and they're dressed in costumes ridiculing Russian immigrants, he thinks. Can I get you to read some of their dialogue? We'll note it begins with a profanity. We will put a costume on that.
JACKSON: (Reading) [Expletive] you, Curtis. You don't know me.
(Reading) Of course I know you. You're a rich real estate brat living off your trust fund, only dimly aware that an entire world exists outside the coddled 1%.
(Reading) Oh, so you live in Zuccotti Park. You went to the school of hard knocks. Didn't you go to Princeton?
(Reading) Oh, so you don't live off a trust fund?
(Reading) I work for a not-for-profit providing health care for developing countries, Georgiana said icily.
(Reading) And who pays your rent?
(Reading) I own.
(Reading) And your rich parents bought that apartment.
(Reading) My grandparents left me money, not that it's your business.
(Reading) And how did they make that money?
(Reading) Well, some of it they inherited.
(Reading) So your family got rich off being rich.
(Reading) You are an ass.
(Reading) I probably am. But at least I'm self-aware enough to know it. Have fun ridiculing people who didn't come over on the Mayflower.
SIMON: Oh, that's tough stuff. How do you make people care about either of them?
JACKSON: Well, I think at first they might be a love-to-hate. But then as the novel goes on, I'm hoping they're a love-to-love.
SIMON: Yeah. Let me ask you a question that I think I would have posed to Truman Capote if I ever had the chance. How's that for a preface?
JACKSON: I love it (laughter).
SIMON: Are you concerned that some of your neighbors might read this novel and say either, why the hell did you put that in there, or why in the hell didn't you put me in there?
JACKSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I can definitely hear all of my neighbors sighing and saying, there goes the neighborhood. Because to be honest, one of the things I've done with Brooklyn Heights in this book is I have exaggerated it. I've turned up the volume on the place.
JACKSON: And the reality is, is that every Tuesday, when I go grocery shopping at Gristedes, where I use my mother's senior citizen discount to save money, the grocery store is full of normal people. But reading this book, it would make you think that it was entirely socialites and celebrities. On the other hand, I don't think any of my neighbors can be too mad at me because worst case scenario, I just raised their property values.
SIMON: (Laughter) I don't want to slide past this. You use your mother's discount card?
JACKSON: I do. I mean, she was living with us when we got it, and so it's just tied to my key fob.
SIMON: My mother is gone now, and I still use her state of Illinois voter's registration. But that's different somehow, OK?
JACKSON: That's different. But what I really want is I really want my mom's Costco card.
SIMON: Well, just rifle through her things.
SIMON: I want to get back to your characters because at some point, the easy joke seemed to recede, and we begin to see them as full human beings who are maybe occasionally clueless, but there's something human beating in their hearts.
JACKSON: Yes, absolutely. I think they all have preconceived notions of one another, especially the way that the two sisters by blood, Georgiana and Darley, regard Sasha. But as the novel goes on, they start to wear each other down. They start to open up to one another. Sometimes that backfires, but as they get to know each other, they, in each other's eyes, become less caricatures and more real people.
SIMON: Yeah. I must say, I find a lot of contemporary novels, and I say this with respect, polemical. I appreciate the fact that yours is not.
JACKSON: Well, I think we all are good, and we're all bad, and we're all trying to do our best. And sometimes we're selfish. And these characters are no exception.
SIMON: Jenny Jackson - her novel, "Pineapple Street." Thank you so much for being with us.
JACKSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.