What Influences A Novel? Immersion by Mary Mackey

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Immersion Mary MackeyImmersion was first published in 1972 by Shameless Hussy Press, and according to the summary on amazon.com it is: “a ground -breaking novel,  cinematic, poetic, and hallucinatory which tells the story of  a young woman named Kirsten who rebels against traditional female roles and wages a desperate struggle for intellectual, spiritual, personal, and sexual liberation in the jungles of Costa Rica.”


We discussed influences, what do we pick up in our lives, what sticks in our brains that lead us to create the fantastic, and in Mary’s world, hallucinatory, books?

I think one of the most interesting aspects of Immersion is what things didn’t  influence me.  Although it was published in 1972,I wrote Immersion in the late 60’s when the Second Wave Women’s Movement was just beginning to ignite. To put Immersion in perspective, “Notes From the First Year [Of Women’s Liberation]” did not come out until 1968, so all the women writers who would have influenced me if I had written Immersion  a few years later had published very little yet due to the publishing industry’s refusal to take women’s writing seriously. As late at 1978 a powerful editor at a major New York publishing house told me in all seriousness: “Women have peaked. The fad is for women is over, so we’re not interested in publishing any more novels by women.”

“One major influence on Immersion  came from my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement which taught me to think of equality as the right of all human beings regardless of race or gender. I was also strongly influenced by my mother, a strong advocate for women’s equality who had worked as a chemist during World War II and then been fired when the men came back from the war. She spent the rest of her life as a housewife, a role she was never happy in.

“I worked as a student assistant for Professor Richard Evans Schultes both the father of modern Ethnobotany and a world’s expert on hallucinogens.  From him I fell in love with the rainforests of the Amazon and Central America and learned a great deal about the effects of hallucinogen drugs.  For personal experience, I’ve run extremely high fevers—105 to 107 degrees—since I was six months old, so in addition I was able to draw on my fever experiences to create the hallucinatory aspects of  Immersion.

“As for the poetic qualities of Immersion, it was my first novel so it seemed natural to infuse it with poetry since I had begun my writing career as a poet. The result is, it reads like a series of prose poems. The unusual, poetic style was also inspired by the French nouveau roman, particularly by Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy and Nathalie Sarraute’s Tropisms. Nouveau roman novelists believed you had to invent a new style for each novel. Since I believed I was writing a new kind of novel a woman’s relationship to nature and her own sexuality, I decided that I too needed a new style. Plus, Immersion is not only poetic; it’s cinematic. Many people have told me it’s so intensely visual that that reading it is like watching a movie.”

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