This week’s story, “A Flawless Silence,” takes place just after the 2016 Presidential election. Why did you want to use the election as the backdrop to a story?

I like the phrase used by Elizabeth Bowen—“life with the lid on.” In both reading and writing, I’m drawn to fiction in which the characters live in a life with the lid on, with the pressure building from within, sometimes near exploding. But the 2016 Presidential election and the months since have taken quite a few lids off, from the national and international arenas to the intimate relationships between family members, friends, and spouses. It’s an unfamiliar situation. I was curious to see if this new setting would change the characters in any way, or if they would create other lids for themselves.

The couple at the center of the story, Min and Rich, both left China as young adults and now live in California with their nine-year-old twin daughters. Min has voted for Clinton; Rich for Trump. Did you know from the outset that they would vote this way? Did you imagine that their conflicting votes would exacerbate the tensions in their marriage or mainly illuminate them?

I knew from the outset that the couple would vote differently. They knew it, too. The tensions in the marriage have always been there, but, as Min puts it, marriage is weather, and they know each other well enough to know the forecast. What makes it less predictable is that the Presidential election has the potential to expose their conflicts to others around them. Their own children are already starting to navigate a double life with the necessary cunning.

The story takes this all-encompassing public narrative, which seemed to leave room for little else in 2016, and weaves into it a private narrative—Min’s memories of an encounter with an older man when she was a teen-ager in Beijing, and this man’s attempts to establish some kind of communication with Min now. Were there any challenges in entwining those public and private stories?

Sometimes I feel wary of the pressure that artists should be creating work that engages with “this time of ours.” On December 31, 1941, not long before Stefan Zweig committed suicide, he wrote in a letter, “There is in reality not much to tell as our private life is of no importance now and the public events have enough publicity.” If I were to put some words on my office wall, I might choose this quote, to remind myself that there is, in reality, so much to tell, precisely because our private life seems of no importance and the public events have enough publicity. To pay close attention to private narratives when there appears to be little space left is to me a way to not succumb to this time of ours. The challenge in entwining public and private narratives is that the former is an egotist: it demands to be fully engaged with, and if it’s not the center of a piece of work it deems the work irrelevant. A story has to push back; a story cannot let itself be bullied.

Min first met the older man when a matchmaker in Beijing suggested her as a prospective wife for his son, who was living in America. On the surface, little happened in their initial encounter, yet Min was aware that the man’s interest in her was not that of a father-in-law’s. Why did that knowledge unsettle Min so much?

In a public narrative the man could be easily dismissed or even denounced. But Min is the kind of character who is quick to understand and slow to act. and I think that’s what unsettles her the most: by not assigning a public narrative to the man, she hopes to retain some dignity for him, yet by doing that she also makes herself a possible subject of “his boundless imagination.”

Min decided to marry Rich in large part because there were no strong feelings between them—there was no sickness of desire. Might she have embarked on a different kind of marriage if she’d never met the older man? Could her understanding of her past now have any kind of impact on her future?

Toward the end of the story Min allows herself to imagine a different marriage, a life in China, but her marriage to Rich, in America, doesn’t seem fundamentally different from the alternative. So perhaps the meeting with the older man is just a chance encounter that placed her on one path instead of another. That said, I still hold some hope for her future. She has the last words in the story, and they are the strongest words she has ever said to the world. I don’t often do this when I’m writing but I did have the last line in mind when I started this story, though I didn’t know at the time to whom the line would be addressed.

How do you think Min and Rich’s marriage will have weathered the first sixteen months of the Trump Administration? And has the President made his way into any more of your stories?

Hell seems to have become a repeated reality for the past sixteen months. Can Min and Rich still rely on their forecast within the marriage when there is no forecast for the world outside? I imagine their relationship is on even thinner ice now, and that both Min and her daughters will find more ways to sabotage Rich.

The President almost made his way into something I’ve been working on. In a chapter of a novel in progress, the main character lists a series of observations about the world, including the President. But what she said of Trump was so much less interesting than everything else she said—he must have bored her—so I took him out.