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Monica Drake Uses Comedy To Explore Population Growth In 'The Stud Book'

OPB | April 17, 2013 midnight | Updated: April 17, 2013 9:44 a.m.

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After her interview on Think Out Loud about her new novel The Stud Book, Portland author Monica Drake came out of the studio with her cellphone close at hand.

During and after the show, her inbox had filled up with text messages from friends who heard her voice on the radio, including local writers Chuck Palahniuk, Chesea Cain and Cheryl Strayed. Though Drake said that the messages were all very supportive, she was a bit self-critical.

“I think I was a little dry-sounding,” she said while texting back.

Drake and company are part of a close-knit cadre of Northwest authors who have gained national attention for their various works, and every one of them have been supportive of her new novel. But that didn’t stop them from poking a bit of fun at her.

“Chuck says I sounded like a bronchial patient,” she reported, smiling in the glow of her cellphone. “Where was the ‘cough’ button? There wasn’t one.”

“Only he would say that! He cracks me up even as I cringe at myself.”

The Stud Book is Drake’s second novel. Her first book, Clown Girl, is a heavily satirical comedy about a main character struggling to achieve her dreams. The Stud Book furthers Drake’s comedic repertoire, while simultaneously delivering a narrative about reproduction and the issues that men and women encounter through the eyes of characters whose lives are much more grounded in reality.

The Stud Book is a comedy — I think of it as comedy — but it’s a comedy about questions regarding population and at what point do we count it as overpopulation, and it’s a comedy about the struggle to bring more people to a very crowded planet,” says Drake. “And I know that doesn’t really sound like comedic material — overpopulation isn’t generally big comedy fodder — but I think it’s a pretty funny book.”

Drake says she drew on her experience interning at the Oregon Zoo, where she charted the baby elephants’ behavior every 45 seconds, for one of the storylines in her new novel. Sarah, one of the book’s main characters, struggles with infertility in her personal life, even as she is surrounded by reproducing animals and zoo patrons who seem to be teeming with offspring.

Drake says the themes that emerge as her characters’ lives unfold include an implicit questioning of how we decide whether and when to reproduce. The snow leopard, for instance, will not reproduce unless there is adequate room to roam and hunt. She says the issues of population growth are at once global and deeply personal, both in real life and for the characters in The Stud Book.

“I worry about things like biological diversity,” explains Drake. “The more humans on the planet, the less resources we have for other creatures. We actually have an ecosystem that benefits from biological diversity. At some point, humans become somewhat of an invasive species.”

For Drake, the topic of reproduction also spills over into issues of class, ethnicity and nationality. Though those issues may not necessarily find their way into the narrative of the book, they are top-of-mind for Drake.

“There’s also a larger sociological or political anxiety about who is, or isn’t, having babies,” says Drake. “To me, that’s odd: It becomes not a private matter, but a public matter.”

One of the reasons Drake wanted to write the book was to start conversations that challenge the idea of using population as a measure of power and control.

“We don’t need to control what babies are born to which voting demographic — it becomes a strange competition, and people say that the babies of today are the taxpayers of tomorrow, and that’s such a misguided reason to bring a human to life. I advocate for forgetting about those kinds of borders.”

It’s a fairly complex issue that Drake feels is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the politics of reproduction. She hopes that her comedic treatment of the topic will help get people thinking.

“I don’t know if all of that is in the book, but I hope it all comes through the book.”

Listen to Think Out Loud’s full conversation with Monica Drake

Watch Oregon Art Beat’s profile of Monica Drake

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