Unconscious bias doesn’t just affect reception; it shapes female ambition and determination, in visceral, hard-to-pinpoint ways. Studies have shown, for instance, that in the face of subtle discouragement (facial expressions and so forth) candidates perform less well. It’s really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.) If the world around you reliably reflects a slight skepticism about, a slight resistance to your talent, it’s easy to begin to internalize that notion and to strive for less, or just be turned off by the whole racket. I often wonder if this, in turn, means that women end up writing less ambitious books. I’d sorely like to put that question to bed, but I can’t help asking it over and over.
Hanna, you ask why Matt would want to see the body in the casket. To me it seemed obvious, but I realize it’s not at all: … for most of Matt’s life, his dad has been absent. So there would be a particularly powerful need to discern that this absence was of another order.