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Ivy Pochoda wanted to write about violent women. ‘Sing Her Down’ is that book. – Orange County Register

Everyone found ways to stave off boredom during the early days of the pandemic — and many of us now have abandoned sourdough starters, unfinished jigsaw puzzles, and dusty birdwatching binoculars to show for it.

Ivy Pochoda, though, has a novel. The Los Angeles author’s “Sing Her Down,” published May 23 by MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is a product of the era that saw people around the world binging television or attending endless Zoom meetings.

“I started it in the fall of 2020, the height of lockdown,” Pochoda recalls. “It was some sort of escapism because there was something to do besides sitting around the house and going to kindergarten online.”

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Pochoda’s novel, set during the pandemic, tells the story of three women: Florida and Dios, who have been recently released early from an Arizona prison where they had been serving time for violent crimes, and Lobos, an LAPD detective who is on their trail, suspecting they have been involved in the grisly murder of a corrections officer and are now in the city.

Dios hates that Florida won’t take responsibility for the crime she committed, and is stalking her, determined to make her admit who she really is. Lobos, meanwhile, is dodging a stalker of her own: her estranged, abusive husband.

“Sing Her Down” is Pochoda’s fifth novel for adults. She also collaborated with the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant on two-middle grade novels, “Epoca: The Tree of Ecrof” and “Epoca: The River of Sand,” under the pen name Ivy Claire. (She chose to use a pseudonym, she says, “because the last thing you want is one of those school-aged kids picking up my other books.”)

Pochoda answered questions about her book via Zoom from Los Angeles. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Q: Where did the idea for this novel come from?

I promoted my previous book, “These Women,” during the pandemic. And when I was starting to talk about it, I became interested in how we gender violence, and how it’s acceptable to write violent men, but it’s not acceptable to write violent women. I’ve always really been interested in why certain things are acceptable in fiction and why they aren’t.

As a thought experiment, I was wondering if you could write something like [Cormac McCarthy’s] “Blood Meridian” or “No Country for Old Men” with female characters. And when I started talking to people about it, they said, “No, of course not, because women aren’t violent in the same way men are.” And I thought that was preposterous. 

So I did some research, and realized that if you read about super-violent women, they go back to talk about something that’s happened to them, like, “Her baby died, or she was abused or raped or her husband was abusive.” All of their violence is seen through something a man had done to them. And that really started to rub me the wrong way. Why are women only allowed to be violent if there’s some sort of male involvement? So I wanted to write a book about women who are violent, not because of anything men did to them, but because of who they are.

Q: This is a crime novel, but it’s also a Western.

I wanted to write a Western. I’ve read a lot of Westerns, but I’m not from, like, Montana or Wyoming. [Laughs.] So I looked at a lot of sort of alternative westerns like John Williams’ “Butcher’s Crossing,” which is about a Harvard student who winds up living his fantasy of shooting buffalo and bad things happen, and “The Ox-Bow Incident,” which is a vigilante justice kind of story. I wanted to write a Western more based on the idea of a Western rather than the setting because I think in some ways, a Western is a setup that can be applied across genres.

Q: Florida and Dios both have significant anger. What do you think makes their anger different from each other’s?

Dios acknowledges her anger as a powerful and positive force in her life, although she doesn’t do good things with it. Florida thinks she’s angry about her situation, how she wound up in jail. She feels like she’s the victim of circumstance and she’s angry about that, but really she’s angry about something else. She has a violence inside of her, but she refuses to acknowledge it. And she won’t acknowledge what the truth of the matter is.

Q: Lobos also has an anger, but she’s forced herself to tamp it down. What effect do you think that has on her psyche, having this justified rage that she does not necessarily feel comfortable expressing?

I think that is, unfortunately, a universal experience for women. Women are not allowed to be angry. Her husband is abusive, and she’s just expected to put a brave face on it and go to work. And she knows if she talks about what’s going on at home, she’s going to be looked down on at work: She’s a police officer and she can’t control her home life, so how can she control a criminal on the streets? So she’s very much angry about the fact that she’s always walking a tightrope as a woman.

As women, we often want to pretend that we’re perfect and our families are great. We complain about the baby not sleeping, or the husband working late. But no one really complains about things like systemic mistreatment in a marriage. Even with the best marriages, there’s this gendered imbalance of responsibility in the way men are perceived and the way women are perceived. Marriage, although it is the 21st century, is definitely stuck in this age-old perception of gender roles. Even though we have working women now and very powerful women in marriages, there’s still this default to gender norms in marriage. What I want people to take away from Lobos is that even if you have the best marriage and things are not perfect, you still have the right to be super angry, because society is okay with that imperfection.

Q: Our society seems like it’s fine with men’s anger, but not at all accepting of women’s anger.

Absolutely. On the most basic level, you can look at something like the [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, where people thought [Christine Blasey Ford] was hysterical, but he was fine. That’s a really clear example, the way we looked at his rage on the stand and the way he was acting versus her being very calm, but she’s considered a hysteric who’s making something up, and he’s considered a Supreme Court justice. There are so many examples of that. Women have to perform so many roles. This was a very hot-button issue during the pandemic because that’s when a lot of this came out. And for every family that said it was balanced, I’d like to question that. Even my friends are like, “I love my husband, everything’s perfect,” but then they’re complaining. I just think that the world isn’t set up for gender equality in the home yet.

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