We had the good fortune of connecting with A. Natasha Joukovsky and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natasha, can you tell us about an impactful book you’ve read and why you liked it or what impact it had on you?
I took a seminar as an undergrad at UVa on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the visual art inspired by it, and fell in love with the poem immediately–its self-reflexive irony; its nonchalance; its clever, layered quality. Like most epic poems, it’s extraordinarily ambitious, but somehow without taking itself too seriously. It was the kind of art about art I myself wanted to make.
Of all the myths the poem weaves together, none transfixed me like the story of Narcissus. It would be years before I’d come across the word “recursion,” but this is what I loved about it: its cascading echoes of embedded self-similar repetition, how its endless extratextual connections mirrored its textual ones. For all of its undulating complexity, it had a mathematical elegance. And yet, I’m not sure there’s ever been a story so human, or in our present times, so excruciatingly relevant. As I started to think seriously about writing a novel, the myth of Narcissus became its central frame, and my debut, The Portrait of a Mirror, is now being billed as “a stunning reinterpretation of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners.”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
It was hard to select a category above, because my professional career–first in major museums, then in strategy consulting–has markedly influenced my writing, and vice-versa. Much of my novel takes place in professional settings; the four main characters are a museum curator, startup executive, and two consultants. While I no longer do client work, I’m still at Accenture, and the process of writing a novel has likewise made me a better employee. The other day–less than two weeks before the publication of my debut novel–I was in a corporate workshop encouraging me to be a “compelling and relentless storyteller,” and couldn’t help chuckling.
So, I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that despite our economy’s seemingly ever-accelerating push toward specialization, you don’t have to be only one thing. Many of the same skills that make me a good writer and consultant are the same: critical thinking, pattern recognition, creative framework-building, unstructured data analysis, insight development, “compelling and relentless storytelling,” etc.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
While we live in Washington, D.C., my husband is from Denver and we visit pretty frequently! It’s generally a lot of family time at my in-laws, but on recent trips have enjoyed eating at Linger and Root Down, catching a Broncos game, and of course, heading up to the mountains for skiing (we particularly love Keystone, not to mention Keystone Ranch). Someday I will make it to the art museum.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The course on Ovidian Art I mentioned previously was taught by Paul Barolsky. He’s the kind of off-beat pedagogue they make movies about–a real Dead Poets’ Society kind of guy. Prodigiously erudite, but with a twinkling, humorous lightness that can be found, too, in his jewel-like books.
My parents deserve immense credit, too. I grew up in a household steeped in nineteenth-century literature. My parents met at Penn State University, where my father was my mother’s Romantics professor. He’s an emeritus now, but still a leading scholar on Thomas Love Peacock, and the editor of Cambridge’s recent editions of Nightmare Abbey (2018) and Headlong Hall (forthcoming). My dad started reading Jane Austen to me before bed when I was ten, and my mind was so powerfully influenced by her prose that I joke she is the voice of my conscience.
Finally, I have to credit my late friend Evan Thomas, who inspired the character of Julian Pappas-Fidicia in The Portrait of a Mirror. He had the wit of Oscar Wilde, and several moments in the novel are fictionalized accounts of actual interactions I had with him.
The Portrait of a Mirror cover: Jacket design by Devin Grosz Front: Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Narcissus, oil on canvas, 1597-99, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome Author photograph copyright Daniel Corey All photos of me are also copyright Daniel Corey