JH: This piece, “Houseboy,” more than any we’ve featured, seems like it was a lot of fun to write. Was it? Was it challenging? Was the challenge fun?
SL: Who can resist a good malapropism? It’s always fun to play around with language, particularly from the perspective of someone who thinks first in another tongue. It was fun to slip on a male suit, to examine our culture through this outsider lens. That’s the fun of fiction. In some ways this piece is a departure for me, so that was liberating, although really it’s the same old story. While the voice came first and fast it also presented certain challenges. I’ve spent considerable time with Israelis and taught non-native speakers, so an earlier draft more rigidly honored ESL grammar; however, I worried it would feel distracting or get in the way of the story. I didn’t want the voice dismissed as a mockery. Sure, hopefully, there is humor here. Hopefully, too, the voice reflects the humanity of a young guy of conflicted bravado and mindset adrift in the years post-army. Where it all converges at the end: his story becomes ours. The trick was to locate that fine balance, so that Avital—in all his playfulness and energy, alienation, and longing—could be heard. So that he connects.