Amber Tamblyn on Schooling Trolls and Her Crazy-Good New Novel About Male Sexual Assault

Amber Tamblyn’s new novel, Any Man—which landed on our bookshelves this week—comes with a few trigger warnings. The first is serious: Any Man features intense descriptions of sexual assault and the physical and mental aftereffects. The second, less so: It’s so compelling, so ignore-your-group-text-level good, you will devour it in a day like I did. Did I mention this is multihyphenate (actress-writer-activist-poet-Twitter god) Tamblyn’s debut novel?

Here’s the deal: The novel’s villain is a serial rapist. The hitch: She’s a woman. Her name is Maude, her victims all men. The plot, which refreshingly, playfully deviates from typical prose form, centers on the survivors of Maude’s violent attacks, men of all ages and backgrounds and identities, trying to cope with what’s happened to them in the face of shitty social media shaming, insensitive media scrutiny, and inept authorities—not to mention, the haunting presence the attack looms on their mental states and in the lives of their families. I rang up Tamblyn to talk about the #MeToo movement, women behaving badly, and how to make men get it.

On the decision to cast a woman as a serial rapist:

I was thinking about creating a female antagonist that broke a lot of the tropes of what female antagonists were allowed to be. Antagonists usually have certain redeeming qualities no matter how terrible they are, or their actions come with a reason (you know, getting back at a man). I wanted to create a predator who mirrors a lot of real-life predators in the sense that they are almost untouchable. I wanted to create a woman who had no consequences in the way that I feel men often don’t have consequences for their actions.

I wanted to create a woman who had no consequences in the way that I feel men often don’t…

On the research Tamblyn did to craft the vivid, visceral descriptions of both the physical and mental aftermaths of sexual assault:

The research is in my lived experience as a woman, and the day-to-day experiences we hear from our female friends. (And because of social media, for the first time ever the world, outside of those private conversations, got a glimpse through the #MeToo movement of what it’s like and how we share stories amongst each other.) To me, that was half of the research—being alive and present as a woman. And it was important for me to show that this is not just about cis women. This is about all kinds of marginalized people who are afflicted by this and sexualized far worse than cis women. I also did research through RAINN and other organizations, looking at sexual violence against men and how much that’s reported. It’s heartbreaking to see how little it’s talked about, how little it’s been studied, how little is known about it.

On what male readers can learn from the experiences of the book’s male victims:

It’s important to me that men can see that this is not about the assault that happened. It’s about everything that comes after. It’s not just about the physical violence, it’s about the post-traumatic violence and the societal violence and the violences of our stories. And when I see men commenting—and it’s usually men, plus some brainwashed women, which is very disheartening but that’s the reality of the world we live in—on things I post or that I’ve written for The New York Times, like, ‘Well, why did she wait 20 years?’ Why did Terry Crews wait all this time?’ It’s like, Here’s why. Read the book. See that it’s an onslaught for us and the terror is so real and the consequences for us for speaking out are so great that often it’s just easier to swallow it and to just never speak of it and to just try and get over it. I wanted to be able to open that conversation up. Some of the men that I’ve shared the book with before it came out, they were kind of floored by it. It touched them deeply. But they also felt like it can’t possibly be this bad, this has got to be slightly exaggerated. No, it’s actually not. It’s actually like this.

On Tamblyn’s sources of pop culture inspiration—the tweets and hashtags, the tabloid newspapers, and the Nancy Grace types that help drive the book’s plot—for Any Man:

After the violences in the body, there are the other violences that come from the media and the media’s contaminating of survivors lives whether they think they’re helping or not. It is often very damaging and destructive. The book is in a way an indictment of our culture and aims to force us to look—myself included. I’m not leaving myself out of this conversation at all. To look at all of us and say, Do we really think we’re helping? Are we sure about that? Is that all we can do is retweet a hashtag or is there more? And what does that more look like?

On the burden women bear to educate men on their bad behavior:

Yeah, I think that there are many different burdens assigned to us that we don’t ask for. And that’s OK—the more the more we talk about it, the more we bring it up, the more things change. That’s the importance of these national conversations. One of the worst things that we can do is inadvertently make the predator’s voice as important as the person they harmed and I see it all the time.

On the expectation that she publicly reckons with anything her husband, Arrested Development star David Cross, says:

Yeah, there’s an expectation. And I don’t. Period.

On what she hopes readers will take from the novel:

I hope that it opens a door—there are many doors in this world and a lot of them have been closed for a very, very long time, a few have started to open, and I hope that this is just one more door in the house has needed it to be aired out. It will be difficult for some people. It’ll be cathartic. It will be triggering. It will be all those things. But one thing is for sure it won’t go without having a point of view and having something to say and creating a conversation. That’s the greatest hope I can have for it.

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