Overpriced salads and political disasters inspired Grant Ginder’s new novel
Did Grant Ginder write the funniest novel of 2022? “Fun” might be dismissive of a work so steeped in dazzling prose, insightful portrayals of young city dwellers, and vivid descriptions of New York and Paris – not to mention a rather timely political agenda – but Let’s not do this again is just about the most enjoyable and hilarious romance novel in quite some time. Ginder, a New Yorker who has clearly done his research on the Right and Left Banks, tells the story of the Harrisons, a Senate candidate mother whose children – Nick, a gay writer working on a Broadway musical about Joan Didion ; and Greta, a surly lost cause who falls for the bad Frenchman and goes wild in Paris – might just cost him the race. At the heart of the novel is a love story between siblings, and no one could have written a smarter one. Here, Ginder describes some of the influences—little i—that brought his book to life.—CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN
A few weeks ago, I attended a reading where a novelist said bluntly that he did not believe in inspiration, which made me think about my thorny relationship to the word. To some degree I understand where the novelist was going with this – I’m over a decade into my career and can say with confidence that I’ve given up on the idea that a singular influence could suddenly trigger an entire book. . That said, I think there is an important distinction to be made between Inspiration with capital I and the people, places, texts and events that inspire us. The first is a mythical bolt that strikes very rarely; the latter is the stuff of life which, if you are lucky enough to notice, becomes art. The list of what inspired Let’s not do this again is, like the novel itself, chaotic: it ranges from Parisian restaurants to overpriced salads to political disasters. I have done my best to collect a few here.—GRANT GINDER
That bright red awning! This steak tartare at 34 euros! It’s hard to think of the Champs-Élysées without conjuring up images of this glamorous, overpriced restaurant long preferred by the French elite. To be clear: I never really been at Fouquet’s – every time I’m in Paris and I’m tempted to stroll there, the idea of taking out a mortgage to order a Caesar salad stops me dead in my tracks. Greta, the ex-daughter of New York congresswoman Nancy Harrison and the enfant terrible of Let’s not do this again, does not cross the doors of the brewery either. Instead, she throws a bottle of champagne through Fouquet’s windows – an act which is filmed for all to see.
WEDNESDAY 9 NOVEMBER 2016
While the plot of Let’s not do this again doesn’t really take shape until the summer of 2018, its political inspiration came much earlier, namely that terrible morning in 2016 when we all woke up to find that Donald Trump had been elected president. In the days (and weeks, months, and years) that followed, I wondered how far I — or anyone else — would go to protect democracy in the United States. Until now, I had naively taken for granted the basic institutions of our country – now, however, I saw them succumbing to brutal incompetence and bigotry. How far would I be willing to bend my own morals and ethics to save them? What would I be willing to look beyond in the name of a greater good? These are the questions the Harrisons face near the end of the book, and how they answer them will affect the rest of their lives.
It’s one of the first things writers learn when they wander through their MFA programs: Chekhov’s old adage that if you introduce a gun into the first chapter, it better be fired by the second or third. I’m no crazy rule evangelist, but it was definitely on my mind when I was writing Let’s not do that again. I was reading a ton of mysteries when I designed the book, and I was surprised at how much fun I had watching the pieces of a story fall into place. The satisfaction you feel when reading an Agatha Christie novel doesn’t necessarily come from glimpsing a world you recognize, but rather from seeing seemingly unimportant details produce outrageous consequences. I wanted to recreate this satisfaction with Let’s not do that again. In my case, Chekhov’s gun has become Chekhov’s trash compactor, but the principle remains the same: I wanted to write a book that was fun.
ROTISSERIE CHICKEN SALAD WITH LAFAYETTE GRAND
Besides being a book about dysfunctional politics and fractured families, Let’s not do this again is a book about salads: people eat them, people talk about them, people get too drunk when they totally ignore them. I’ve lived in New York for almost fifteen years now, and in that time I think I’ve ordered about eighty-five percent of the salads Manhattan has to offer. Among them, the Lafayette Grand roast chicken salad reigns supreme. I order it every year on my birthday (with a few glasses of white wine), so it’s no surprise that Nancy praises it in the first pages of Let’s not do that again. “In a town of overpriced salads,” she tells her campaign manager, Cate, “this one is king.”
VAISSE TOWARDS BETHLEHEM, BY JOAN DIDION
When is Didion do not an inspiration, that’s what we should ask for. So says Nick Harrison, who spends much of Let’s not do this again attempts to complete a musical he is writing about Didion’s early years in New York. The musical is called Hello everyone! and he is inspired to write it after a particularly difficult day teaching selections from Advance to Bethlehem to his undergraduate students at NYU. I should note here that I, too, had particularly difficult days teaching Didion to my undergraduate students at NYU, although that never stopped me from returning to his work. If you can figure out how a Didion phrase works, I tell them (as they look at me skeptically), then you can learn to love writing.