Normal People: Hopeful Post-Love Millennials
Normal People by Sally Rooney (and the Hulu adaptation) is a love story that may or may not be a romance novel, a story that might be hopeful even if it’s bleak, but who could say if it represents all millennials, who live in a post-love, post-Tumblr society? Shelf Love’s Youth Culture Media Correspondent Dame Jodie Slaughter helps me decipher what Normal People has to say about love, romance, marriage, and millennials, all through our lens as romance novel readers.
Normal People by Sally Rooney (and the Hulu adaptation) is a love story that may or may not be a romance novel, a story that might be hopeful even if it’s bleak, but who could say if it represents all millennials, who live in a post-love, post-Tumblr society? Shelf Love’s Youth Culture Media Correspondent Dame Jodie Slaughter helps me decipher what Normal People has to say about love, romance, marriage, and millennials, all through our lens as romance novel readers.
Thanks to the contributors to this episode:
- Instagram friends: @charlotteevaah @boysandmonsters @dbabyfilarski
- Normal People by Sally Rooney & Hulu adaptation
Join the Conversation on Discord: https://www.patreon.com/ShelfLove
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Guest: Dame Jodie Slaughter, Shelf Love’s Youth Culture Media Correspondent
- WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? ROMANCE AND INTIMACY IN AN AGE OF HOOKING UP by David Shumway
- Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations
- Edited by Melanie C. Green, Jeffrey J. Strange, Timothy C. Brock
Jodie Slaughter: [00:00:00] sometimes, I just want to be like, and I quote, damn bitch, watch a show.
Andrea Martucci: I watched a show. I watched this show and then I did a bunch of academic reading so I could understand.
Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media time and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by romance novelist Dame Jodie Slaughter Shelf Love's Youth Culture Media Correspondent. Jodie thank you for joining me today. I see you are out there in the field, living your best life. What can you tell us about the youth? Are you kids all right?
Jodie Slaughter: I'm not a child. I am firmly pushing 30. That's what my mother says. Every birthday I have 27 years old is, famously an adult. Are the kids all right? That's a complicated question.
Some yes. Some no,
Andrea Martucci: And I think we're going to get into that today because we're going to talk about a work of art that is hailed by some as the defining literary work of romantic love as viewed by millennials and or some such thing. We'll talk about it. Are you down to clown about Normal People?
Jodie Slaughter: I'm going to hang up. I am always down to clown about Connell and Marianne. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Okay, good. And I know that jokes are funnier when you explain them. So I would just like to let everybody know that Jodie and I have a running gag about being down to clown.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, you just really tickled me pink, bud.
Andrea Martucci: So Normal People, this is a novel by Sally Rooney who has gotten quite a lot of press as like a wunderkind of millennial novelists fame. This book was published in 2017 or 2018. And then there was a Hulu mini series that came out in 2020. And I watched the miniseries and I bought the book and skipped around a little bit, but admit I did not read the book.
Jodie, have you watched and or read?
Jodie Slaughter: Both. Yes. I have read the novel and I have watched the show. I did watch the show first.
I hadn't heard of it before the show.
Andrea Martucci: That's what happens with adaptations is they whet the appetite of the public for the source text.
Jodie Slaughter: Absolutely. Which, does this prove or disprove certain things that we've talked about in episodes past?
Like who knows, but I am one of those people who will discover the thing, watch the thing. And if I like it enough, which I did with Normal People, I'll be like let's see what that source materials look in like.
Andrea Martucci: I think what's important also about doing a podcast about anything as a millennial is just like really being like, very vague about your points.
Like you put them out there and then you're like, does this prove or disprove this? Who could say? Who could say is the theme of the millennial, whether you're an elder or younger. So
Jodie Slaughter: you really want to convey in a podcast that covers very pressing [00:03:00] topics about the impact of popular culture on like regular life is just who the fuck knows?
Andrea Martucci: Really there is no truth. Reality is subjective, yeah. I copy and pasted the description of this book, which is pretty similar to the Hulu series from Good Reads. And I will read it now just to catch all of you up on, on what we're going to talk about. So at school, by the way, this takes place in Ireland. " At school.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. That's important because those first two words, if you don't have that context that it's like very UK you're like, why would it be talking like that? But yet.
Andrea Martucci: " At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He's popular and well adjusted. Star of the school soccer team." I'm sorry, school football team? "While she is lonely, proud and intensely private.
But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne's house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers. One they're determined to conceal. A year later, they're both studying at Trinity college in Dublin." Ireland. "Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities, but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together.
Then as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay. Can I bring up two points about this when you were reading? First point, then I'll circle back to.
I want to be clear before anybody tries to come for me. First of all, I didn't send for you. Second of all, I'm not a fool. I know what's going on, but this reads very much like a romance novel because it's got all of my favorite fucking tropes in it. Like right off the bat, So it's got oh, popular boy, like shy girl. It's got like class difference in how interesting. It's got like high school, whatever. And then secondly, the point of like how fucking weird blurbs are and knowing what this story is I feel like the blurb is very divorced from the feelings of this book and the feelings that it inspires and is more trope plot story focused. And the book is all feelings and actually we say the show, excuse me, I will say the show because it also is the same. I think the adaptation is pretty damn great. But yeah, it's a thing of like how the book is sold.
Andrea Martucci: [00:06:00] I'm so glad you started here, because I think that just to put the context around where this conversation is happening, Shelf Love started as exclusively romance novel podcast. And now in season three, I'm talking about love stories in pop culture.
So the things we talk about here, don't have to explicitly fall under the construction of the popular romance fiction genre. However, I think talking about this particular story, the adaptation of the novel and the novel itself in the context of is this a romance novel is actually an interesting question because as I was thinking about it, like you're entirely right.
The plot elements of this story hit all the beats of a romance. And I think the book essentially fits the definition of a romance novel if you're very open-minded about what can fit the definition. So the classical definition that most people adhere to is that a popular romance fiction novel is primarily focused on the romantic relationship between people.
And it has an emotionally optimistic or emotionally satisfying ending, which is usually called the happily ever after or the happily for now.
I think though, most people, their internalized understanding of what a romance novel is, has a lot to do with the feelings that they get in a romance novel.
And it has a lot to do with that feeling of the ups and downs of this relationship ultimately ending a, in a hopeful place. And I think most people also associate certain emotional reactions over the course of the story that this book, I think, denies the reader or the viewer.
Jodie Slaughter: That point that you made that about the book denying. I also want to point out, I love this story. I love the series. The way Sally Rooney writes because it denies you the certain like you said, that you would find in a romance novel these certain like sort of explosion of like big feelings all around. It's not any less satisfying, but there was something to me personally in the show where being able to see the depiction of the scenes.
There's a particular scene that I talked about when the book came out briefly on Twitter, but where Connell threatens Marianne's brother, because he's abusive. In a romance novel. I think generally Connell would have, first of all, he'd have beaten the shit out of Marianne's brother, like to start maybe murdered him.
Yeah. But then also there would have been something else after that, about that
Andrea Martucci: A reckoning, maybe of the emotional payoff of that as symbolically representing something about their relationship and or his desire for her
Jodie Slaughter: and there isn't. I don't think that moment comes as any type of surprise in the story.
Not to me at least, but it also didn't strike me as a grand gesture.
Andrea Martucci: And I think, like there are plenty of romance novels [00:09:00] that are like bleak in like the world is bleak, but I I think that this book like leans hard into the bleakness of the characters' interiority?
Jodie Slaughter: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: And I think that is the feeling that you're talking about and like having dipped into the book briefly, like in this description talks about the perfectly spare prose. Like it's very Hemingway-esque with like short declarative sentences. There's no dialogue tags.
I don't get the sense that Sally Rooney's background is like as a genre reader. Like yeah, very literary. And I think that like the main sort of stylistic difference that I think readers would pick up on, if they were like popular romance fiction genre, readers is the way big feelings are expressed in the language, it's said it's there, you can interpret the emotion.
And I think that the adaptation of Normal People keeps that same feeling. There's a lot like loaded in looks and stuff. People aren't exploding with emotion.
Jodie Slaughter: How much of that is, and I'm going to say the word Irish eight million times, but how much of that is deeply cultural?
Andrea Martucci: I don't know because like I used to work with a guy who lived in Ireland until he was 18 and was Irish. I worked with this person every day for over a year. And if anything, my understanding of irishness via him was much more emotional and in touch with one's feelings. But I think that's the problem with anecdotal evidence. Yeah.
It's n of one.
Jodie Slaughter: That is very very possible.
And also, I do think it's like generally unfair to like, be like Irish people are like this, like that's, it's ridiculous.
Andrea Martucci: Almost as ridiculous as saying like all millennials are a particular way or all Americans.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yeah. I don't mind so much declarative statements about Americans.
Cause I'm like, yeah, if there were a you're probably right. Whatever it is you were saying,
Andrea Martucci: but who could say really?
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Who could say. Yeah. I don't know that Sally Rooney has ever read a genre fiction novel in her life. I feel like she was like eight years old reading Hemingway or something.
Andrea Martucci: Let's just start with the end here. I want to come back to essentially is it an emotionally satisfying ending? And does it leave you with a feeling of hope?
And I think that the relationship in this story progresses over the course of the story. Is it hopeful? What do you think?
Jodie Slaughter: I guess the question I'd ask is why does it have to be, or does it have to be?
Andrea Martucci: It doesn't have to be, but I guess particularly if we're asking could this be emotionally satisfying
Jodie Slaughter: I think for me, I've found it equal parts I don't know if I'd say satisfying. I found it to be very in line with common with Connell and Marianne,
I found it to be pretty devastating as a romance reader. I specifically want to point out that I really love, love [00:12:00] stories, and I love romance and they often are the same thing and they are often not at all the same thing. So I actually don't know if I went into watching Normal People expecting like a happy ending.
Here's what I will say. I got the tone of the show within the first 10 minutes. And even if I didn't know what was going to happen, I understood that this is not going like a romance. The way this show watches. It just feels different. Like even if it at the setup, you're like, oh boy, girl, high school, that type of thing.
It felt different to me. So I think I went into it with expectations that were like, let's just keep them low. Or in terms of having happily ever after type thing,
Andrea Martucci: For those of you, if you have not read or watch this, the gist of their relationship is in high school. Connell has the upper hand socially and Marianne is like the outcast and he wants to hide their relationship from their friends, is a shitbag about that and makes Marianne who already has really crippling self-esteem issues because of growing up in a abusive household.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Makes her feel terrible about this relationship that she desperately wants. And he's her like one social connection and they're essentially like friends with benefits and he won't acknowledge their relationship. They both end up going to Trinity College where all of a sudden the situation has flipped.
And now Marianne due to her higher class status and wealth is like the popular kid
Jodie Slaughter: she's cool kid. A little different, especially among like younger millennials, which I feel like maybe Connell and Marianne are supposed to be. I'm not positive how old Sally Rooney is, but I think she's around.
Andrea Martucci: She was born in 1991.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay, cool. Yeah. So she's a little older than me and I think Connell and Marianne are maybe supposed to be around my age, there is a difference among the young millennials of being popular and being cool.
And they can be one in the same thing, but Marianne is specifically cool. And where they come from cool and popular are the same thing. Connell was not particularly someone I would call. Cool. This is something that he is insecure about, but he wasn't particularly really like clever or witty or interesting even within his peer group.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. He's not gregarious. He's not the life of the party. But he's like the person that people want around because he's like good at sports and he's smart. And he has that quiet coolness you want to acquire him in your friend group as like a status symbol.
Jodie Slaughter: And Marianne and her gang in college are like, they're cool. Cool. They were like cool clothes that are like, cool and obviously expensive, they care so much obviously. But the clothes are like, I'm going wear some, this thing that like kind of drapes sometimes, and then I'll wear tights and they have all these like interesting parties.
Andrea Martucci: because they're rich, they're mostly privileged
Jodie Slaughter: Yes, absolutely. They're like, they're privileged people who have like parents who have whatever houses and they can throw like giant gorgeous [00:15:00] parties and all that other.
Andrea Martucci: And I think, I think that is important. Like the coolness, because I think Marianne it's super not explicit, but has like a house in Italy and is like super wealthy, like super, super wealthy. And it's not clear at all how extensive that is.
Jodie Slaughter: Her mother is like an estate agent,
Andrea Martucci: I thought she was a lawyer.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay. Okay. She's a lawyer. Okay. My bad. And I don't remember or know if we were ever told what her dad did, but her father is dead at the beginning of the book and then throughout no, he comes back to life. We didn't mention. And she's always rich because Connell is notoriously not, and his mother is the maid for Marianne's family,
Andrea Martucci: but you know what I mean? There's a difference between being the richest person in Sligo, where they grew up and being like rich at Trinity in Dublin.
Jodie Slaughter: Absolutely. And it does seem like maybe she's both somehow.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think once they get to college that becomes clearer. And so they get to college and and I think it's also important to mention that Marianne's desirability in particular is very rooted as like her whiteness and thinness.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes.
she's this little waif. So Marianne, in the book description, it's very like, she's not popular. Marianne is, she obviously has some like pretty crippling self esteem issues and like plenty of anxiety and plenty of trauma, but she's also like to be fair a bitch.
She's like snarky and even in high school, like to her teacher, like she basically calls one of her teachers in high school, like an idiot or something like that. Cause she's not paying attention in class. And I feel like the gist is where like she's not being stimulated.
This isn't, whatever, not for her.
Andrea Martucci: The show is obsessed with how they are both like the smartest people on earth also.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And I will tell you, I was like, I wonder if this is pulled out more in the book, but like in the show I was like, I don't actually get the sense that they're too invigorated by their intellectual pursuits.
And I don't see how they're smarter than everyone else around them.
Jodie Slaughter: I
Andrea Martucci: agree.
Jodie Slaughter: That's where I think actually that like real, focus on those like heavy internal feelings come in. I think there's a part that it's like they think and feel deeper than everyone else and
Andrea Martucci: And so of course they're gravitating to each other.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. And I think that's how I, it's not something that I bought necessarily, it's something that I'm like, I feel like that's the thing you're supposed to believe and understand about Connell and Marianne and that's what's supposed to boost they're a step above like literally everyone else they ever meet ever.
Andrea Martucci: So essentially what you're saying is that is the fantasy of this book that
Jodie Slaughter: yes.
Andrea Martucci: This book is one true pairing, soulmate focused.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay. OTP. Yes. OTP. Absolutely. Soulmate.
Andrea Martucci: were made for each other.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. And you know what, they [00:18:00] fucking were.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So I'm going to come back to I took some highlights from like their first sexual encounter because I think it hits a lot of these themes. And by the way, this is where I dipped into the book, because I was just curious about the contrast between the sex scenes in the show and the sex scenes in the book.
I was curious, especially in sort of contrast to the way sex is portrayed in a lot of romance, novels that I've read.
Okay. So in college now, Marianne has the upper hand socially and Connell is spending a lot of time working part time jobs, and just obviously not economically well off.
So his college experience is very different. He feels like an outsider. He doesn't feel like he's fitting in naturally socially or like that he has a lot in common with his peers. And self-doubt like he is suddenly now, what is my place in the world? Marianne is still a bag of insecurity and in a lot of ways, being driven by those insecurities, but like from the outside appears to be thriving and they're together briefly, their inability to communicate drives them apart.
Marianne in particular engages in a lot of borderline slash explicitly abusive relationships. And we'll talk about the BDSM kink element in a bit. And Connell keeps having these like blah relationships with just women where you're like, we don't understand really the appeal and by the end they go through a bunch of shit together.
And by the end, they're emotionally together finally. But then Connell is accepted into an MFA program in New York, which this is like asterisk and is going to go to New York. And he's like, you should come with me. And she's like, no, I finally found my footing here and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And I'm going to stay, but it's kind of like ambiguous. Are they together? Are they going to come back together in the future? Are they in a good place emotionally? And if we check back in, in some number of years, there'll be together. So that's the crux of. Did they get their shit together so that by the end, even if they're not like engaged, getting married they're together, like metaphorically.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Do you know what kind of kills me about that? This is like an offside MFA programs in the United States are two years. Right?
Andrea Martucci: My understanding is most MFA programs are residency two years. There's like non residency programs that may be longer or shorter where like you go show up for a weekend or a week and do some stuff and then go back home. But also very few of them are fully funded. So the idea that Connell who needs this like big scholarship at Trinity to be able to afford stuff is going to go live in New York city at a, what I'm going to assume is a non-funded MFA program and pay New York City rents. When he was struggling, I had, that was what the asterisk was for is I was like, this does not fit with my understanding of anything.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Or in like reality, no, fully, as we're going through the story of both of them, he is coming into his own as like a writer [00:21:00] and he has to get the confidence to submit - we don't know what he writes really.
Andrea Martucci: I assume short stories about his navel and the perfect whiteness of Marianne skin.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh my God. And then Marianne the concept of her okay, you know, you have like thoughts about stuff and it's fully against your politic, but I was like, Marianne, just go with him. The concept of her finding her footing. I don't remember what she's studying in college at all. I don't remember.
Andrea Martucci: I think history. Okay. But I had to dig for that.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Like fine. There's no emphasis on Marianne's like academic life.
So think her finding her footing is just like her becoming a little more sure of herself or at least the understanding that like, she's like going to be okay. I'm like, you're like a rich white girl. You can afford to take a year to go live with your boyfriend in New York.
Andrea Martucci: So I believe the implication is that after the situation where her brother physically assaults her, which is slightly different, my understanding between how that happens in the book and the show that she finally is like, this is not okay.
My understanding is the relationship in her family is as long as she puts up with the abusive dynamic, she benefits from their privilege. And as soon as she was like, hi, my brother broke my nose, then she's cut off because she has to move out of the apartment, that family apartment and
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. See, class, this is what happens when you don't do a refresher, but yes. Okay. Absolutely. But also she could have still gone,
Andrea Martucci: exactly. This text wants us to believe that like the emotional transformation that Marianne has had now has materially changed her practical existence.
Yes. And that she's happy in her job and her apartment and her friends. I'm like you have one friend.
Jodie Slaughter: To be honest, Marianne is the type who would follow Connell anywhere and anywhere he went. And to me, I mean, obviously it's rooted in self esteem issues, but like she is desperate to be loved and desperate to be loved by him specifically. It felt like a a light switch of like her entire like personality and being and choices as they revolve around Connell.
Andrea Martucci: Counterpoint there though, I think that's actually where you're supposed to feel hope is that she is finally making a choice.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: That is saying, I am enough. I can do things on my own and I can love him, even if he's not here.
Jodie Slaughter: Absolutely. I like the ending.
I like to believe that like 10 years down the line is when they finally figure it out. Maybe
Andrea Martucci: so weird side note, Sally Rooney wrote this short story that was published before Normal People came out. That is essentially about Marianne and Connell years [00:24:00] after the events of Normal People. And then she was like, I implied a lot of things happened in these people's relationship.
I should explore that and that was the Genesis of Normal People. I don't know if they're actually supposed to be congruent worlds, but that's the story. And I read the beginning of this story. I was like, these two people are still a hot mess.
Jodie Slaughter: They are
Andrea Martucci: like, there was nothing progressive about that relationship compared to the middle of the series or I assume the book.
Jodie Slaughter: And generally, I think that's where this differs from romance novel. In a romance novel, the general gist is that like there's supposed to be real progression in these characters in order for them to have their HEA. And part of me feels like Normal People is more rooted in, I don't want to say the reality because the reality is people do progress in order to like be together and spend their lives together, not everyone, that's hopefully how it works for a lot of people, but for a lot of people, how it works is you fucking stay the same, like absolute fool.
Andrea Martucci: But like literary there's a hundred percent the sort of is this like modernism, like like the modernist like representing reality and like the bleakness and monotony and like lack of real change in reality.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: So that's definitely present here, but I've been doing a lot of reading about narrative impact. I have this book right here called Narrative Impact. I've been reading a textbook for fun. And one of the themes that really is coming up here that I think resonates with me a lot. It gives me the language to talk through some of the things I've explored in other places on this podcast is this idea that going into fiction, we, as the reader of what we are looking for kind of via the journey in the text is not only being transported temporarily out of our world into another world, but transformed.
So you go into the text and when you come back out, you are transformed in at least some slight way, right? Not oh my God, I'm a different person. Now that I've read this book. But like you, you come out with some change in how you feel or think about something and that a lot of that kind of happens through the characters where you start with the characters in a particular place, and then there's like some goal that they need to accomplish.
And over the course of the text, there's ups, there's downs, and then there's a conclusion where you see the person in a different place than they started, hopefully having achieved the main thrust of the goal that they set out or having questioned the goal and refigured it out in some way, right?
There's a progression. And I think that, like the word, transformation or progression or change gets interpreted a lot as like positive change or whatever.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I think what is distressing about like checking with Marianne and Connell like in their mid twenties or later, and finding them in the same sort of inability to communicate and[00:27:00] having not grown in any way, it negates any transformation that we see happen in their relationship at the end of Normal People.
And depresses me because I'm like, oh, you're caught in a cycle and not only will you not -like I don't need them to magically quote, unquote, get better. Like it doesn't have to be a binary. I just want them to have a little bit of growth and get a little bit farther down the path
Jodie Slaughter: To that I'll say, is that, yeah, that's what I want for them too. And someone who loves a couple. What I'd say as someone who's thinking about just like love in general. And I'm also not even saying that like the text does what it needs to do in terms of like making a reader feel like there's some type of change. The story isn't about regression. And it does seem to be often about progression. Like you see them , like Marianne become less completely like soul shatteringly, insecure, slightly
Andrea Martucci: Less focused on other people to externally validate her self-worth and having a stronger sense of self-worth internally
Jodie Slaughter: all of her emotions, whether that be pleasure or pain or happiness, like she wants to export all of it and experience all of that through the hands of someone else or like the actions of someone else.
And to be fair, her making the decision to stay where she is, is a progressive step.
Andrea Martucci: Oh I'm fine with her staying, I agree. That's a progressive step in emotionally. Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: But I'm also just I don't know what Sally Rooney is doing. Cause I feel like she's also one of those writers who's which fine. Who's this story is the story.
Andrea Martucci: I'm very on board with like death of the author, but like I definitely read articles where she was quoted and she definitely feels a particular way about what she's doing. I'm not going to read any quotes, but yes,
Jodie Slaughter: You can say. But I'm like, because I know that we were talking briefly before, not today about the love story versus the romance of it all.
And I think, I feel like to me, what I get out of this was that like, do you know what I mean? Like sometimes love is like unsatisfying.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. This reminds me. So there's a chapter at the beginning of the new Routledge Research Companion on Romantic Love. And this is a chapter by David Shumway called What's Love Got To Do With It, which is also the tagline for season three of Shelf Love. So I'm distressed at how derivative I am.
Jodie Slaughter: Also a Tina Turner song.
Andrea Martucci: That's what I was deriving from.
Jodie Slaughter: Wow.
Andrea Martucci: I'll be honest. That's probably both of our source material. Romance and Intimacy In An Age of Hooking Up. And that's the rest of the title. And he talks explicitly about Normal People in this essay, which I thought was interesting.
And Eric Selinger mentioned this essay in my last episode now about Unreal, but Not Untrue, but it's like the discourse of intimacy versus the discourse of romance. And essentially the main thrust [00:30:00] of the idea here is initially when romantic discourse began, it was like romance was something separate from marriage.
And then over time, like particularly around the 1950s in the Western world, let's say the discourse of like, well, you engage in marriage because you're in love. And so it's like the relationship it's like pairing marriage and love and romance. And then the discourse moving into the discourse of intimacy versus romance.
Essentially then, instead of saying what is the nature of romantic love kind of conveying intimate moments and like, what is true intimacy? And I feel like you see this a lot in romance novels, knowing the other person so well that they are able to do a thoughtful gesture or being completely attuned to the other person.
I feel like those are all very much like the discourse of intimacy. And so what David Shumway had to say about Normal People is "Unlike the romantic fiction, her plots do not turn on whether the couple will marry or live ever after in longing. Unlike marriage fiction and the discourse of intimacy, these works have no interest in exploring how monogamous relationships work or how they might work better.
Rather they seek to explore what happens to people after marriage and relationships have lost legitimacy. The result is presented as neither utopian nor dystopian, but it does not inspire hope." End quoth
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, interesting. That last line of does not inspire hope, is to me interesting because I kind of agree.
I think the part of me that feels hope is the romance reader in me and writer. It's not the part of me that, cause I, you know, I stayed in fucking everything and I, whatever, that's what happens. Like I come from fandom, my whole thing is shipping people. It's not the part of me that like completely is divorcing love or intimacy from romance.
It's the part of me that's like combining all of those things and then being like, that's why I have hope. I think I agree with him. I don't know if I can make, say, I've never, I haven't read any of Sally Rooney's other books. Another one, that title I cannot remember right now, like definitely follow similar.
Andrea Martucci: Conversations with Friends or
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, Conversations With Friends. Like it's got affairs with professors or something like that in it. I feel like suddenly Rooney is like my dramatic queen, because I feel like she really buys into the quote that like within her work, that to love is to be tortured.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I totally agree with that. I think that it's like, no matter how much these people are drawn to each other, you can never truly know or be consonant with another person. Which I mean, is both true and also like untrue.
Jodie Slaughter: It's an incredibly, I think it's Sally Rooney's books have certain things that are beautiful, certain things that are really like damaging and [00:33:00] also incredibly cynical about the idea of romantic love at its core.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay, so you can talk about our socialization and the cultural effects that portray marriage as being loaded with a lot of meaning and looking a particular way based on what we are exposed to in media or in our real lives or whatever. But I feel like a lot of the cynicism about monogamous relationships focuses on things that like are the bugs, not the features of monogamous relationships.
And I say this I'm biased, I'm in a very happy and fulfilling, monogamous relationship.
Jodie Slaughter: Brag.
Andrea Martucci: well, I know but I mean, again n of one, but I'm like I'm pretty happy with the situation.
Like it can work. It's not the structure that's the problem. It's perhaps people's expectations or inability to communicate or which is something that we talk about a lot with like romance novels, where I feel like a lot of romance novels, the crux of it is when you can finally communicate productively with somebody about like your needs, your feelings, et cetera that things work out.
But I think that what a lot of this boils down to is, is love enough. This is very relevant because talking about the discourse of romance and the tying of love, romance, sexual pleasure, if that's something that you want, et cetera, all in one package with one person.
And when you think about the expectations of marriage in particular, I think that a lot of people are like well, you're just going to be completely in sync with this person and be able to read each other's minds and this love, and this other person is going to fulfill you completely. That's not the case, but I think it's also that like the divorcing of marriage itself from practicality.
Where it's like part of a successful monogamous relationship for most people who are going to live together and merge their like practical lives. Can you actually live with this person? Can you actually see them in a bulk of time and continue to enjoy their presence? That is a very practical consideration.
And I think that if you focus exclusively on the feelings of love as making a successful marriage, I think that's where you get to this point with the cynicism of texts like this of, oh, but I love this person so much, but love isn't enough to sustain a marriage. And it's like, no shit Sherlock.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, no, I think it's also like really important to point out that neither Marianne nor Connell come from that loving nuclear family background. Connell's mother is a single, I think teenage mother. And then Marianne's, like I said, father was dead, but when he was alive, he was abusive.
Andrea Martucci: And Connell's upbringing was like loving. His mother is like a great character calls him on his shit.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. He has a great, and also he has extended family that we see, even if briefly that he has a good time with, and that love him and that he [00:36:00] loves and Marianne doesn't have that at all. And so I definitely think there's I'm trying to think of who is if there's like literally any married,
Andrea Martucci: monogamous relationships
Jodie Slaughter: in this book.
Andrea Martucci: That's a very good point because I was going to say I think that like the point, the dichotomy between Marianne's family and Connell's family situation where it's like, you don't need heterosexual family unit to be happy. In fact, it can be really unsatisfying then compared to the like, and you can in fact have a loving upbringing and be perfectly happy, as we believe Connell's mother, is outside of, like you can have a perfectly fulfilling life, et cetera. And like on the one hand, I'm like yeah. I mean, like, That's totally true too. But then to your point their model is very limited by like that exposure. Surely some people in their lives are able to sustain this and they can look. But I don't know. I think that like in this text explicitly shies away from presenting that.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. No, absolutely. And and that makes me wonder
Andrea Martucci: what's your angle, Sally?
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, that makes me wonder what Sally's not necessarily, I don't need to dig into what her I don't think that's, it's not that I don't think it's relevant.
It's that Sally Rooney could come from a perfectly happy like nuclear two parent household and still be incredibly cynical about monogamy. So the it's not that, I don't know. I'm thinking about Sally Rooney now, and I'm thinking about millennial views on love and how they may be line up with mine, how they maybe don't. How she seems to portray love, romance, et cetera, in her work. And obviously there's a cynicism. But it doesn't feel, it feels, There's something to me because I'm like melodramatic and incredibly ridiculous.
And I've also never really like, I mean, I've been in love, but only like once and also I don't know, it wasn't this like huge thing.
Andrea Martucci: But your expectation that, that's what love is that it's this big, huge thing. Like that is no doubt. The influence of cultural artifacts.
Jodie Slaughter: Absolutely. There's a part of me that like, sees certain, and this is all like complete speculation. Like I do not know this woman. I've never talked to her, but there's something to me that is giving me very like deconstructed version of a Tumblr post that is, like I said earlier, very like love is torture and that's cool and good and beautiful maybe. There's something interesting in it.
Andrea Martucci: interesting. Okay.
Jodie Slaughter: Diametrically opposed to the idea of love is all powerful and love will save the world or, that type of stuff.
It seems to me like she's trying to give a statement on like, love can be just as important and just as powerful and not necessarily like bad in the way that we see like mafia romances, where it's like, he controls me and doesn't let me leave the house. But that's because he loves me [00:39:00] so much. But more like God, we're all so fucked up. So love is all so fucked up too.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. All right. All right. So let me read this sex scene. And I would say just like the mood of the sex scenes in the show is very much like it's intimate. You feel the sexual chemistry. They're sweaty. It's not soft focus. There is flacid penis. They're like flushed. And not always sexily. Like rumpled sheet, like it's like a very natural expression
Jodie Slaughter: It is important to point out, Marianne has a bush. That's important. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: It's a merkin really.
Jodie Slaughter: But it means something, I
Andrea Martucci: mean, that there's codes against full frontal.
Jodie Slaughter: Fine. Fair.
Andrea Martucci: It's either that, they could have just not shown that part of her body and let us believe that she is fully bikini waxed or whatever, but Brazilian wax, but yeah, the book apparently makes a point to say that in high school, she doesn't shave her legs.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: But I get the sense she started shaving her legs in college.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, for sure.
Andrea Martucci: So this is the first time they have sex, in the book, which is by the way, page 22. And I believe they have sex at the beginning of episode two in the show, something like that. Yeah, I think
okay. And I think this is a really important passage because I think it reinforces and, or it gives some points of discussion for what we've been talking about.
He's talking about how, like he had sex with a girl before Marianne, but Marianne had never had sex with anybody before. His previous experiences, he knew that there was gossip about it. And he'd had to hear his actions repeated back to him later in the locker room, his errors, and so much worse.
"His excruciating attempts at tenderness performed in gigantic pantomime."
Jodie Slaughter: that excruciating attempts at tenderness really grabs hold o f me.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It's like the intimacy that he tried to bring to the moment was like reduced to not only pantomime, but like to it's like crudest elements where his sentimentality was like mocked
Jodie Slaughter: and that's all Connell. That's what he's terrified of,
Andrea Martucci: that his private becomes public .
Jodie Slaughter: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Which is why he loves. Okay. So then he's got this secret relationship with Marianne. What does he find so fascinating about it? How very private and insular and how it is not shared with the world at all. As you will see.
"With Marianne, it was different because everything was between them only, even awkward or difficult things. He could do or say anything he wanted with her and no one would ever find out. It gave him a vertiginous lightheaded feeling to think about it. When he touched her that night, she was so wet and she rolled her eyes back into her head and said, God, yes. And she was allowed to say it. No one would know. He was afraid he would come just then from touching her like that."
His desire for her that was end quote, his desire for her is entirely wrapped up in the intimacy, the privateness, the fact that he can make mistakes and nobody will know.
Jodie Slaughter: [00:42:00] Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like hers is entirely wrapped up in holy shit. Someone wants me
Andrea Martucci: a yes. So then later he's describing another early moment of sexual congress
(laugh break) intercourse. " When they went upstairs, he didn't say anything. He let her talk. That's so good, she kept saying." So as an aside, the verbal affirmations, that feels so good. "Her body was all soft and white, like flour dough."
Jodie Slaughter: Oh God.
Andrea Martucci: Can we just
Jodie Slaughter: pause there? Why?.
Like I have no fucking clue,
Andrea Martucci: Every time like there's discussions about you know, like whiteness in romance, like I'll come upon a phrase like this I'm like, that was so unnecessary.
It's fine that they're white people, but like
Jodie Slaughter: we know
Andrea Martucci: white, like flour dough
Jodie Slaughter: like flour dough of all things,
Andrea Martucci: I suppose that if I look at that and think about it
Jodie Slaughter: more pliable
Andrea Martucci: Pliable,. Yeah. I guess like flour dough is not like a positive or negative thing.
It's very neutral.
Jodie Slaughter: More like, yeah. I think that's most of you, like she's moldable. I can move her and I don't know whatever, but know that, but yeah. I don't know. I don't know. And also, because like you said earlier, Marianne is like very thin and Daisy Edgar Jones. The actress or whatever.
She's beautiful woman, but very thin. So there's no, there's never any I don't know. It's weird to the dough is I? Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: she's more like a crusty French baguette.
Jodie Slaughter: really is a crusty French baguette,
Andrea Martucci: Uncooked not golden by the oven but hard, like it's been cooked. I think it just, it's just like a very weird descriptor. Okay.
That feels so good. Nope. Sorry, read that.
Jodie Slaughter: That feels so good.
Andrea Martucci: "He seemed to fit perfectly inside her." Hmm. What does this sound like?
Jodie Slaughter: So this is a lot of these things are very familiar. It wasn't like that with Marianne.
Andrea Martucci: "Physically, it just felt right. And he understood why people did insane things for sexual reasons then.
Jodie Slaughter: Literally read that a million times in romance novels.
Andrea Martucci: Y eah. Oh, "But why Marianne? It wasn't like she was so attractive. Some people thought she was the ugliest girl in school" as an aside, because she doesn't shave her legs.
Yeah. And like occasionally spills yogurt on her shirt, like terrible. "What kind of person would want to do this with her?" Okay. "And yet he was, and yet he was there, whatever kind of person he was doing it. She asked him if it felt good and he pretended he didn't hear her." Solid. "She was on her hands and knees. So he couldn't see her facial expressions or read into it what she was thinking. After a few seconds, she said in a much smaller voice, am I doing something wrong? He closed his eyes. No, he said, I like it."[00:45:00]
Jodie Slaughter: So first of all, I want to start out by saying Connell's treatment of Marianne in the beginning. So fucked up, and his thoughts about her are so fucked up.
Andrea Martucci: Can we talk though about how this is not that different? He is so fucked up and he is so mean to her and let me just acknowledge that.
And I think honestly, the way this book treats their irresistible attraction to each other, even though they don't like each other or treat each other very well throughout this book is really bothersome, especially when then they're just so dismissive of the relationships with every other person in their lives, where everybody else is just like in their orbit and is not given humanity in my opinion.
And some of the people are really not good people. Like they make. They make red choices. As I would say to my six-year-old. You're not good or bad. You just make green choices or red choices.
Jodie Slaughter: Honestly, that's pretty clever.
Andrea Martucci: So some people in their lives make red choices. Some people in their lives just apparently have an absence of green choices.
Jodie Slaughter: I feel like nothing matters to Connell and Marianne, but Connell and Marianne. Connell's mom matters. And but post high school, like he doesn't have any friends,
Andrea Martucci: He has that one friend who he's really dismissive of, even though his friend seems to be a much better friend to him than Connell is to his friend.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh yeah. Connell's not a good friend. Marianne isn't either.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: Not so they're not good people. They are normal people.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. I get it like solid reference, but they make a lot of red choices.
Jodie Slaughter: They make a lot of red choices, both concerning each other and other people and themselves.
Andrea Martucci: And I'm okay with it.
I'm okay with them making red choices. And I understand that everybody is at their core, like self-involved, but they are assholes to other people and like other people are admittedly assholes to them, but it's like, everybody's the asshole here?
Jodie Slaughter: They're like, 18, 19, 20. Not that it's okay to be a real piece of shit at that age, of course. But I don't know, they're in this space where because they're also pretty much only interacting with their age mates.
Andrea Martucci: Except when Connell makes out with his high school teacher.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: We don't have to actually talk about it. I just wanted to mention it.
Jodie Slaughter: That's a lot, there are a lot of little things, completely unexplored, and they're like real bombs that you're like, excuse me. But anyway, I think Marianne takes a lover when she's in Sweden or whatever.
And he's maybe a few years older, maybe a decade older who, I don't know, he's just some random like black Swede, I dunno. But generally they're interacting with their age mates. And so I think what I got was like, they're assholes because they're young and for all the. Lack of privilege when it [00:48:00] comes to money, for all the lack of the like in-house abuse Connell's life has been fine.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I mean, he's He's still a white, intelligent able-bodied cisgender heterosexual, man. Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: He had a home to come to every day. There was always food. His mom like, he was one of those kids like their family had a car and the mom was like, here, you have the car, you just drive me where I need to go
Andrea Martucci: what would that be like?
Jodie Slaughter: I don't, I have no clue. And then obviously is rich, but an abusive household, but yeah. Things are afforded to her because of her wealth or whatever. So generally they are two people who, while obviously they have their own like traumas, baggage, et cetera, have never had to not be self-involved. And I think generally we don't know anything about the other characters really, but I assumed they were in the same boat.
Andrea Martucci: Everybody is stuck in their own little myopic world.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. So very myopic,
Andrea Martucci: I guess just like from a relationship angle though, like this text really wants us to believe that Connell and Marianne are like fated and like they have this love story that will cross time. And it doesn't matter if they're with other people, they can only look at each other in the room essentially.
And that part feels like overly romanticized to me where I'm like, okay, why do you keep engaging in relationships with other people when you have absolutely no emotional connection to them as far as we can tell? That just feels like disrespectful. And I feel like the text wanted to turn every other relationship with somebody else into a villainous situation.
And by the way, did you notice that every one of their love interests almost with one exception was a person of color?
Jodie Slaughter: I did. Connell has a, I don't know how long they dated, whatever longish term, like semi-serious relationship with an Asian woman who he, I don't understand why she stayed in that relationship at all. He's nothing to her.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And did you notice that she became villainous when she broke up with him when he had depression?
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Did you notice that?
Jodie Slaughter: Like, it was truly nothing. It was someone's funeral. Like one of Connell and Marianne's classmates died. He took the girlfriend back home and effectively like sees Marianne for the first time in a while, or is able to interact with her and basically like pushes, it like, bye bitch to his girlfriend. And it's
Andrea Martucci: and she's has some feelings about that. And he's like, I don't know what fucking wrong with you.
Jodie Slaughter: He's like, it's Marianne. Like, don't, you know,
Andrea Martucci: it's my fated mate. What's your problem. You're just here to create some temporary conflict to keep us apart. Okay.
Jodie Slaughter: Then Marianne spends like a semester abroad in Sweden. [00:51:00] And she takes up with this is he, I think
Andrea Martucci: Lucas?
Jodie Slaughter: He's like an artist or a photographer, something like that. I can't believe you remembered his name. And he is like maybe biracial but black.
And he, I don't know that it's the air that Marianne is coerced into this, like kink, BDSM, like sadomasochist relationship that they have, but it certainly wasn't anything we'd known her. I know.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So to back up the boyfriend that she had while in college, is this stuck up asshole? Sorry. He was a white guy actually. And the short guy jokes, that they made about this guy was essentially like, oh no, Connell was like towering over him. He feels bad, but then they jokes is expense.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Also, like there, I think there are parts that I caught of Marianne where she like the first time Connell meets her friends when they are in college and she still has this like little white man boyfriend, who's a part of their group. The boyfriend like makes decisions for Marianne about what type of wine she wants.
And I remember I spent a lot of time thinking about that because part of me was like, is this abusive? Or is this something that she enjoys that he does, I think it's a little bit of both. But I think it is also deeply rooted in her lack of like self-esteem entirely.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that his characterization is supposed to be that he is so himself cripplingly aware of being a small man that he has like a Napoleon complex and has to assert his cultural dominance and knowledge by doing things like ordering for her or, but it's because he's so intimidated by true power
Jodie Slaughter: yes.
All this to say that Marianne is not a stranger to like, I guess, concept of like power imbalances within relationships.
Andrea Martucci: And so then Marianne articulates to Connell at some point during that relationship, that she has started getting into like, getting slapped by him or like rough sex type stuff.
It's I can't remember the details of it, but she indicates that there is like some BDSM elements being incorporated in, and that she asked him to do it or that he is doing it and she likes it because it's the only way she can like, feel something because she doesn't feel anything
Jodie Slaughter: when she's not with Connell.
And also Connell and Marianne's sex is very like
Andrea Martucci: vanilla?
Jodie Slaughter: Very, yes. Best sex ever, very vanilla. There's a lot of wow, these sex scenes are incredible. I don't think the sections are bad at all. I think that the two actors have pretty fantastic chemistry. And so the sex scenes are like, they are, like you said, really intimate, like really well shot. Not bad at all. I watched them like every time I ever [00:54:00] watched the show, I don't ever skip through the sex scenes because I like, but and granted because they're not supposed to be, they're not like hot and titillating.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. I believe that they're not meant to be titillating in the way that you, the viewer are meant to get like physically titillated, but they're like emotionally titillating.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Fair we're watching a show. It's gotta be tight. We're not getting like snapshots of them fucking on a Monday afternoon. You know what I mean? It's gotta be like tight.
I don't know, always gives a very like I never see anybody get fingered even a little bit.
Andrea Martucci: There doesn't seem to be a lot of like foreplay.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, it gives very I'm just going to push inside you and we're going to thrust and it's this big emotional moment and that's fine. But it is another element where I'm like I don't know.
I guess that's supposed to symbolize, like with Connell, Marianne does need all the extra stuff because, but it's also
Andrea Martucci: which I don't like, I don't like that.
Jodie Slaughter: I don't either. And granted, I think this is a thing we're not supposed to have answered whether or not Marianne is actually into kink.
Andrea Martucci: Okay, let's talk about that because I think that the text explicitly ties it to her trauma and, and that she needs the BDSM in her relationships and craves it explicitly because she doesn't feel enough in these other relationships and has to bring it in through artificial means. And I'm not saying BDSM is artificial. What I'm saying is that is what this text positions.
And so hold on. Let's go out to our listeners. I have some responses from Instagram about Normal People that I can bring in here. Okay. So Charlotte Evah says that the question I asked was something like, what does Normal People have to say about millennial love?
And they said "our sex life reflects our true." And John J who is femme trash on Twitter, as some know them said, "this book deals a lot with love existing with growth and leaving cycles of trauma and abuse. Also the books HFN happy for now ending doesn't have a romance novel tone, if that makes sense."
But so talk about trauma specifically. And Charlotte had said our sex life reflects our trauma. I think the text does say that, and I don't know if that's like a great correlation.
Jodie Slaughter: I don't either. I, 100% agree. I, I don't know. That's something I'm like still trying to like, wrap my head around too.
Especially seeing so many people be like, wow, the sex is like really great in this. And I'm like, I don't think it's bad. It's certainly not bad, but.
Andrea Martucci: All the BDSM sex is made to be like gross and not only unromantic, but like traumatic
Jodie Slaughter: It's traumatic. And then there's also, there's a scene more towards the end of the show where Marianne and [00:57:00] Connell are both back home at the same time in Sligo. And they're both single and whatever. So they're like singling and mingling, they're like chilling. And they are having sex in, Connell's bedroom where they, had sex for the first time.
And Connell is I think, behind her and she asks, she says, And she said, will you hit me or will you hurt me? Or
Andrea Martucci: something like that. Yeah.
Jodie Slaughter: And he kinda was like, huh. And she repeats it and he goes, he says something along the lines of no, I don't think I want to do that.
And she becomes incredibly humiliated and gets up and immediately leaves like flees the scene. And there's a scene later where they like I think he like apologizes for reacting the way he reacted, which is, which was literally just saying, no, thank you. I don't want to hit you.
And I thought that was really interesting to have him like apologize for just like setting a boundary and I'm trying to understand.
think their relationship, whatever was unsure at the time. But she never asked him for anything like that before. And that's what I'm trying to be. Like. I don't understand.
Andrea Martucci: I think that it's like on the one hand, nobody should do anything that they are not into and can enthusiastically consent to. So like point one, Connell is totally fine saying no, I'm not into that. No, thank you. And he doesn't like ridicule her.
Jodie Slaughter: He's not like, you gross bitch. Yeah. He's like still inside her like very awkward as he is. And he's oh no, I don't think
Andrea Martucci: Wait, what is it?
Jodie Slaughter: Excruciating moments of tenderness.
Andrea Martucci: Attempts, excruciating attempts at tenderness.
Jodie Slaughter: And yes. Rightfully Marianne is fucking humiliated.
Andrea Martucci: I don't think it has to be rightfully if they are in a intimate, respectful relationship. They have such a longstanding.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, I would be, and it wouldn't be his fault, it's not like Connel is bad. I just understand why she's humiliated to I've asked for something like that. And I feel like she's embarrassed because she's like, fuck, I'm like a weird freak person.
Andrea Martucci: I think that what is problematic about the way this text handles BDSM in sexual relationships is that it equates it with a, something that people who have trauma histories
Jodie Slaughter: yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Find particularly compelling. And like the thing is, is like, I don't know if this is true or not, like I'm not a therapist. Maybe this is something that happens, but it pathologizes wanting to engage in sadomasochism as something deviant and something that is an indicator of harmful feelings of self-worth.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. It's first of all, it's Marianne using kink as self harm,
Andrea Martucci: which [01:00:00] maybe there's a correlation there. Like I do not know
Jodie Slaughter: I think you can use anything as self-harm if you know what I mean. Yeah. There's no real care when it comes to kink in this. There's no, I don't even know if there's basic, like understanding of what it means to engage in this sort of
Andrea Martucci: I think EL. James did a little bit more research on BDSM and kink, than it sounded like Sally Rooney did
Jodie Slaughter: probably. She probably did. And now
Andrea Martucci: that's not saying much
Jodie Slaughter: is, and I don't want to put stuff on Sally Rooney.
Andrea Martucci: Jodie. We can only take what is in the text.
Jodie Slaughter: Who could say?
Andrea Martucci: We can only take what we have been given.
Jodie Slaughter: We take what we've been given. What I'll say as a millennial is that as a younger millennial, rather, I don't know when you were introduced to kink and BDSM in a way that was not, Ooh, these people have whips and chains, like in a way that was like, oh, this is a thing that people do just people, everyday people and not some sort of this is a deviant wild counter-culture thing. I know that I was probably pretty young because, I was destroyed by the internet. But I also think that,
Andrea Martucci: hold on, I have an answer? It was 2012. It was Cara McKenna and Tamsen Parker.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh really?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Cara McKenna in particular had a book. Was it like After Hours where it was not a red room of pain, it was like, here are two people working work-a-day jobs and they just introduce a little bit of BDSM elements into the relationship, very, communication, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And Tamsen Parker's was it like True North series or something like that? I was a beta reader before it was published. And in her books, it was, it's much more like explicit. Like they go to a place and they engage like more like the contract elements of it. But two very much like well-researched understanding sort of the psychological dynamics of it and understanding it not as an abusive dynamic and, or being wrapped up in the props.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yes. I agree. I've read a Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker. It's incredible. It's a kink like BDSM romance, and I really love it, but anyway, it's like a short, really lovely read.
But yeah, so I was like, I, there, there is something that comes with being introduced to a thing like pretty young before you are able to have an actual keen understanding of what it is.
And then also having it be slightly casual, it just being in fanfictions that I read or talking about it with people on Tumblr or talking about it with people like in real life. There's a certain level of, casualness, I think that could come with like being a younger millennial raised in like the internet age and
Andrea Martucci: Post-Tumblr-
Jodie Slaughter: yes.
Andrea Martucci: Millennial. What we'll call you.
Jodie Slaughter: [01:03:00] Yeah. A post Tumblr Millennial. And I think that can affect the way you approach kink and BDSM. Part of me feels like that's an attitude, along with the concept of just incredible misunderstanding and the attribution to like kink and trauma and like " fucked up people do this," that type of thing. Along with that, there's just a casualness of this is something you were just trying out. Everybody's just trying.
Andrea Martucci: This is where maybe like the Irish part may be a little bit more relevant. I grew up Catholic and while Connell and Marianne are not explicitly religious, they go to church and I assumed it was Catholic.
Catholicism, at least in my experience, is like real big on feeling guilt about pleasure.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. The self-flagellation
Andrea Martucci: of it. Exactly. Yes. The self-flagellation I don't know if like culturally there's sort of like, Catholicism influenced mindset that is maybe not as open-minded about BDSM being part of a healthy sexual diet.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I think there's also like an element there of people who choose to engage in sexual relationships that have elements of BDSM or, you can have non-sexual relationships that have elements of BDSM, people who choose to do that and to enjoy it and are using healthy practices of consent, and, all of those things, everybody is enthusiastically into what is happening. Like awesome. I think that we have to recognize also that there are some people, as BDSM has infiltrated our common lexicon of things that are like part of the repertoire.
I think it's also like okay to acknowledge that sometimes it is introduced without people's enthusiastic consent and it just becomes like another thing that in particular, people with marginalized identities are coerced into, by it being an expectation for the other person's benefit.
Jodie Slaughter: I think 100%. That's true. Yeah, it could be I think generally a very intimate thing, whether sex is involved or not. And people are coerced in all different types of like intimate settings. And I don't think this is any different. I think denying that it can be a perfect, like a breeding ground for all types of like manipulative abusive people to manipulate and abuse, vulnerable people, I think it's irresponsible to just say that it's the one place on earth where somehow none of that exists.
Andrea Martucci: It's a bug of BDSM, not a feature and it's actually really more tied to like general cultural existence, where certain things are normalized, particularly based on like gender roles or you know, identity where relationships can be coercive.
So yes, not unique to, anything in particular.
So to wrap things up (rueful chuckle) so Diana Filar commented on Instagram.
Jodie Slaughter: Hi Diana
Andrea Martucci: Oh my God. Right. [01:06:00] There are pictures of Jodie and Diana from our boat cruise.
Jodie Slaughter: Touching her beautiful pregnant belly and now beautiful pregnant belly is a sweet little baby. I
Andrea Martucci: She said "never has a book so fully captured how I felt as a teen slash young adult."
Jodie Slaughter: Diana. That's exactly what I'm saying. That's why I love this so much.
This concept of it's just like young people, fucking angst in love. Young people angst in love.
Andrea Martucci: Are they in love?
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. They're fucked up in love. I don't love using the word pure, but for lack of a better term, it's not a love that is healthy. It's not a love that is even necessarily good. It's not a love that serves either of them, but I think they are.
Andrea Martucci: But what is love Jodie? What is love, but a second hand emotion?
Jodie Slaughter: Who's to say, but I tend to balk up at the idea of love being good only if that makes sense.
And I understand the counterpoint that like, if it's not, then it isn't love.
Andrea Martucci: Love is an action, in the words of the immortal bell hooks.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay. Fair. Yes. Love is an action. Love is an action and do Marianne and Connell prove love via their actions? Well. Maybe we can say,
I think love is an action, but what happens when you are a person who is deeply, deeply flawed, deeply traumatized, excrutiatingly self-aware to the point where it's like, yikes, babe, calm down a bit.
Andrea Martucci: I feel like in romance novel world, love, especially, if we're talking about intimacy, true intimacy, it's about validating the self and the other through kind of like, I see you completely.
I recognize you. I see you. And I appreciate, and maybe there are our red choices that are made there, but through it all, I s ee and respect and appreciate your individuality. And I don't want you to change
Jodie Slaughter: That's not this necessarily, and not because I think either of them wants the other person to change. I think they're whatever their feelings of love are, is very small and it's very self-involved and it is very, it's less of a, I see you and more of a, you see me, I believe that you see me and no one else sees me. And that's the why and the how of the love here.
Andrea Martucci: What is so interesting about that, I agree with you completely. And as I was saying that like the I see you, I think that they see the other, but not how the other sees themself.
Jodie Slaughter: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: [01:09:00] And also that their complete inability for most of the story to at all step outside of their own experience and interpret what the other is experiencing. Honestly, to me makes me feel like it is a mirage that they see each other and they believe that they see each other and that they are seen, but they don't at all. And that's why, in my opinion, it is not love
I think that they reach a point at the end where they are in love, but I don't think they are until that point.
Jodie Slaughter: It's not that I don't agree. I don't, I don't know.
Andrea Martucci: " I think it's pretty obvious I don't want you to leave." "I don't find it obvious what you want."
Jodie Slaughter: yeah,
Andrea Martucci: they have no idea
Jodie Slaughter: The way I feel like what love is it's I think what you're describing to me is what love should be, what it needs to be in order for it to be good and healthy and respectful. And not to me the way it actually presents a lot of the time and in this narrative, which is, I don't think you can love someone thoroughly or well, or even like unselfishly outside of the way you are describing love. No, but I think that you can love someone for utterly selfish reasons. Because like I said to me, I don't know. Maybe it's just because I feel like there's types of love that aren't good.
Andrea Martucci: And this is making me think that like if what we're hearing from you and Diana Filar at least is that this has really captured how you felt as a teen or young adult, like maybe specifically around romantic relationships.
Maybe that is actually the thing is there's this like immature understanding of love perhaps because of youth, because of our own traumas, because of the cultural generational moment that we're in, et cetera, where there is that extreme desire to be seen, but your own shit keeps you from fully being able to see or be seen.
And maybe that's the journey that they get to. Maybe that's the transformation is shifting from like that I think I really love you and I'm really drawn to you and we have awesome sexual chemistry into like, but actually love is not necessarily all those things. It's truly being able to hear what the other person is saying and see them for their needs.
Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yeah. That's what, yes. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: I think we just cracked that nut wide open.
Jodie Slaughter: I feel like maybe that nut busted all over our computer screens. In summation.
I love Normal People for its depiction of like two fucked up kids, just, vibing.
Andrea Martucci: It's a vibe
Jodie Slaughter: No good feelings, just vibes, broken teacups, tights, Italian countryside. You know what I mean? It's just a ride of to me, what it is to love when you're fucking 17, 18 years old, which is to say you don't know yourself, you don't [01:12:00] know, you don't know anything
Andrea Martucci: you know what we were talking earlier about like how Connell when he was 17 in high school. And he's kind of like, I don't even know why I like her. She's not the prettiest but I just feel, oh, it's just and I can be myself with her.
And I was like, yeah dang. That is the theme of almost every romance novel,
Jodie Slaughter: yes,
Andrea Martucci: I think in particular according to gender stereotypes women feel the need to be the most physically attractive. And I think that romance novels, a lot of them work really hard to be you can be appreciated, even if you do not fall into like hegemonic beauty standards. I think they do that less so for men. I think that if you think about that, like a lot of romance novels have a construction of like, I'm really into you. I'm really attracted to you. I'm really sexually attracted to you, but I don't like you that much. And having to like, get through that journey of even if they do like the person at the beginning, seeing them more completely and being able to understand their needs. Yeah,
Jodie Slaughter: that's real life. Do you know how many people like are like, were deeply. But can't fucking I love that woman, my whole life.
My grandfather is still alive to this day. What a weird way to say that. Absolutely bizarre alive to this day (laughter). My grandfather is 82 years old and he's still alive. And my grandmother died when I was 16 years old. That's 11 years ago. They were both each other's second marriage. And my grandfather like, I mean, you know, he's not dating,
Andrea Martucci: why not? He should get what's that app
Jodie Slaughter: Tinder.
Andrea Martucci: The other one.
Jodie Slaughter: I hate when marrieds pretend like they don't know the apps. We don't know. We don't, I don't know what you're talking about. Pretty young thing. I got news for you. That's all over Tindr.
Andrea Martucci: What?
Jodie Slaughter: Married couples trying to fuck you.
It's like the baddy in a video game, you have to defeat It's like some woman and her absolutely disgusting looking husband. Not that that's you and your husband. You're both. They're a beautiful couple. You guys.
Andrea Martucci: We are truly very sexually desirable
Jodie Slaughter: No, but yeah, people fucking do not like each other, man.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, I totally agree, but this is a fantasy. Fiction is fantasy.
Jodie Slaughter: I don't know that. I don't know that's true.
Andrea Martucci: This book is a fantasy.
Jodie Slaughter: Is it?
Andrea Martucci: It's a bleak fantasy.
Jodie Slaughter: I don't know that I looked at it as fantasy.
Andrea Martucci: Let me make my argument. Then you can tear it apart.
Jodie Slaughter: Okay.
Andrea Martucci: It is a fantasy of finding somebody who you have that connection with from the beginning that when you were in the room together, you can't look at anybody else and that you're solely focused on each other.
And then I think a fantasy of overcoming your shit to be able to maybe move forward with that person maybe,
Jodie Slaughter: okay. I feel like, so I understand what you're saying about the fantasy of the fated mates aspects. The way I'm like thinking [01:15:00] about it now, is that like, you know how you feel when you have a crush
Andrea Martucci: Totally. All the time.
Jodie Slaughter: It's like they took that. Married people guys let's -we need to get them off the face of the planet. It's if you take that feeling that you have a crush and you're like, okay, God, nobody knows me like them, but you're like this love, this is love. That's what this is. It's like the feeling of having a crush where you're full on leaning into your delusions.
Andrea Martucci: Like I have a crush on Richard Armitage.
Jodie Slaughter: That one? I have a crush on Jon Bernthal. And I'm like
Andrea Martucci: Who?
Jodie Slaughter: Are you serious? Are you serious?
Andrea Martucci: Who is this? John Berthel
Jodie Slaughter: Bernthal? Are you fucking serious? Andrea is, and if she takes us out, she's fake. If she cuts this part out, she's a fake and a phony.
The thing about Andrea is that you know how you like, go to a dinner party and there is like a perfectly lovely person, but you're all like, so anyway, the season finale of Succession, how was that? And they're just sitting there and they're like, lovely. They're not trying to reroute the conversation, but you look at them and they're just kind of like, I don't really watch TV.
I just read textbooks. And you're like, oh wow. That's so cool. And it is cool, but it's like damn bitch, watch a show.
Andrea Martucci: This has been discussed before, like the problem with what you just said, Jodie, is that the entire time you said it? I was like, yeah, I'm awesome.
I was like, that sounds like a cool person.
Jodie Slaughter: Because you are, it's you are right. You are because she's not like pretentious about it. Like I know people that guy who's I don't have a TV. All I have is a fucking record player and my vinyls. And that's how I get, she's not that guy, but sometimes, just, I just want to be like, and I quote, damn bitch, watch a show.
Andrea Martucci: I watched a show. I watched this show and then I did a bunch of academic reading so I could understand. Look, it has been well trod territory on this podcast that I do not actually know how to have fun and pleasure is hard for me. I'm working on it, but like also I want to acknowledge that just like maybe the things that I find pleasure in are weird to other people and I'm okay with that.
Jodie Slaughter: Fair enough. Fair enough. I love it. No one's really quite like you. And that's exactly why you found the Connell to your Marianne.
Andrea Martucci: So Dame Jodie Slaughter. Thank you so much for coming to this episode to share your perspective as Shelf Love's Youth Culture and Media Correspondent. We look forward to having you return to Shelf Love in the future to share your insights from the lower rungs of the millennial generation.
Jodie Slaughter: All I have to say, thank you so much for having me on to say next to nothing.
Andrea Martucci: Who could say?
Jodie Slaughter: Saying that I have insight [01:18:00] is hilarious. But like I'm always down to clown. I'm always down to come and talk about goofy shit while you read the textbooks. And you're like, here's this like incredible academic quote.
And I'm like, but the vibes are immaculate and that's why it's good. That's the only reason it's good. The vibes are immaculate. So I look forward to it.
Andrea Martucci: And you're the yin to my yang. Like I need somebody who will pay more attention to the vibes so that this podcast is not a complete downer with me just reading from textbooks.
And also, Jodie is going to be returning on a regular basis. I'm saying that like, as if that has not already happened, that Jodie has returned on a regular, Jodie is going to return. She's a regular correspondent on Shelf Love now. The salary is $0, but I pay her in vibes.
Jodie Slaughter: I get paid in vibes. I'm a millennial. I'm all about the vibes. I want that cold hard cash.
Andrea Martucci: I'm going to write you an endorsement on your LinkedIn page
Jodie Slaughter: You assume I have a LinkedIn, bold of you to assume I have a career that requires getting a LinkedIn.
Andrea Martucci: Next up on Shelf Love. We'll talk about LinkedIn pages and how you can optimize them for your career in capitalism.
Jodie Slaughter: Like those little articles, ladies,
Andrea Martucci: Speaking of your career, how can people seek out your work in other venues?
Jodie Slaughter: So you can go to JodieSlaughter.com where you can find all four of my currently released romance novels. They are all indie published. And then this summer on July 12th, 2022, my first traditionally published contemporary romance novel will be released. It's fun. It's flirty. It's real sad. It's angsty.
You missed an opportunity
Andrea Martucci: to just say fun, flirty and dirty.
Jodie Slaughter: Oh, that's true. Rhyming is like passe,
Andrea Martucci: elder millennial generational trait.
Jodie Slaughter: Andrea is an elder statesmen of millennials . And also you can find me on Instagram @Jodie_Slaughter. And then you can follow me on Twitter @JodieSlaughter.
It's just vibes vibes vibes vibes
Andrea Martucci: and that's jodie with an I E
Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Jodie J O D I E Slaughter spelled.
Andrea Martucci: Like you're going to kill someone Yeah. Thanks for being here and looking forward to having you back soon
Jodie Slaughter: and I'm dreading it.
Andrea Martucci: Nice.
Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources.
If you want to join the conversation about the topics that we discuss on Shelf Love, I'd encourage you to check out Shelf Love's Patreon at Patreon.com/ShelfLove. Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith, and John Jacobson.
See your [01:21:00] name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's Patreon.com/ShelfLove.That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.
Alyssa Cole, Amanda Allen, Amanda Cinelli, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Andrew Piper, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Candice Ransom, Carter Sherman, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, Dr. Margo Hendricks, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Fangirl Jeanne, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Helena Greer, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Leigh Kramer, Lucy Hargrave, Lucy Score, Lynell, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicola Welsh Burke, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Philippa Borland, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Reformed Rakes, Renee Dahlia, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Sri Savita, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoa!mance, Whoamance, antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fairy tales, fanfiction, fangirl jeanne, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematization, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, paranormal romance, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult
antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fanfiction, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult