Jean Kyoung Frazier On Pizza And Friendship In Her Debut Novel
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A novel called "Pizza Girl" opens with an unnamed narrator who has a pile of what we'll call issues catching sight of a woman. Let's have the author introduce her own characters.
JEAN KYOUNG FRAZIER: (Reading) Her name was Jenny Hauser, and every Wednesday, I put pickles on her pizza. The first time she called in, it'd been mid-June, the summer of 2011. I'd been at Eddie's a little over a month. My uniform polo was green and orange and scratchy at the pits. People would loudly thank me and then tip me a dollar. At the end of shifts, my hair reeked of garlic. Every hour, I thought about quitting, but I was 18, didn't know how to do much of anything, 11 weeks pregnant.
SIMON: "Pizza Girl" is the debut novel from Jean Kyoung Frazier, who joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.
FRAZIER: Yeah. Thanks, sir. Thanks for having me, Scott. I put on pants and a shirt for this occasion. (Unintelligible).
SIMON: Thank you. So did I. And you really once delivered pizza, didn't you?
FRAZIER: I did, yeah, for a summer. I was a bartender for longer, but I - the summer I delivered pizzas was definitely memorable.
SIMON: And did you ever put pickles on them?
FRAZIER: (Laughter) I did not. I tried that once. I was just driving through South Dakota, and I found a random little hole in the wall that had pickles on pizza. And I tried it, and it was surprisingly tasty.
SIMON: As your narrator recounts, she's 18, 11 weeks pregnant, palpably often unhappy at home. Her father is, as we learn, is recently deceased. And he had a problem, didn't he?
FRAZIER: Yeah, he was an alcoholic, to say the least. And, you know, a lot of the novel is sort of about how we become the people we become...
FRAZIER: ...And the things that we inherit from our parents, whether we want to or not, and just basically how we react to that - like knowing what we're made of and seeing what we do with that.
SIMON: Does your unnamed narrator - she resents her father. Does she begin to worry that she is resembling him?
FRAZIER: I was thinking a lot of the question as I was writing it, sort of for some people, is the only thing that's preventing them from being their parent just having a child? She's going to soon have to answer that question.
SIMON: What does Pizza Girl glimpse in Jenny, do you think?
FRAZIER: I think she feels this sort of kinship. I was thinking a lot about sort of the confusing ways we feel for people. Whether it's, like, attraction, romantic or otherwise, like, we feel pulls for certain people, kind of like we know them without knowing anything about them. And we kind of take that feeling, and it can propel us to making up a lot about a person in our head. You see someone who - it's so common to say things like, oh, I got a good feeling in my gut. But what does that ultimately mean? It's very easy to be charming for a few minute intervals at a time, you know, like when she's just standing in the doorway talking to the pizza girl.
SIMON: When we meet Jenny, she's in a fragile moment, too, isn't she?
FRAZIER: Yeah. I think that's sort of what the appeal is for Pizza Girl. There's this sort of feeling for her that, like, adulthood comes with all these serious emotions and serious - you have to act serious, be serious. But she sees this, like, wildness in Jenny that she herself feels, and there's something comforting to her about this chaos in this older person, this chaos and this mess that she finds, like, scary and beautiful.
SIMON: There is a devastating speech that I have written out word-for-word where Jenny tells Pizza Girl, (reading) soon you'll have your own beautiful boy or girl, who will look at you with their perfect little face. And you'll feel love and hope. And mostly, you'll feel the weight of everything that's ever happened to you and everything that will ever happen to them, and you'll want to run.
Boy, that's utterly true, but it doesn't pick up your spirits, does it?
FRAZIER: I am a hopeful person. And I believe in the beauty of life, but I believe in honesty, too. And it's a tough line walking, like, creating a book about beauty and about obsession and also having harsh realities in there, too.
FRAZIER: Real people.
SIMON: I'm going to chance asking this question just because of something you write in the acknowledgements.
FRAZIER: Sure, yeah.
SIMON: You write in the acknowledgements, (reading) my dad, I'm sorry things haven't always been good between us, but I'm thankful a lot has been good with us and we still have time to fix the bad.
Is that another novel going on there, or is it this one?
FRAZIER: A novel is still a novel, and even if it's not autobiographical, it's personal, you know? And I guess with that sort of acknowledgement and the ending of the book, I think why I ultimately view the book as happy is that even though all this sadness has gone on, it's not over. Like, this character's life is just beginning.
FRAZIER: She has so much that she can still be. You know, she hasn't proven that she can be a good mother or even be a good person, but she has time.
SIMON: And your character Jenny reminds us there's still - she's older, and there's still room to grow up, isn't there?
FRAZIER: Yeah. Totally, totally. Like, I think the ending - she finally has to face basically how she sort of uses people in her life and sort of, like, the wake of her chaos and how it affected this young pizza girl.
SIMON: Jean Kyoung Frazier - her debut novel, "Pizza Girl" - thanks so much for being with us.
FRAZIER: Thanks, Scott.
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