Life has gotten bigger for Stephanie Land since the Netflix series inspired by her ruthless 2019 memoir, “Maid,” premiered in October, but it also delivered some unusual challenges.
In the series, Margaret Qualley plays the resilient lead who, after leaving an abusive relationship, barely manages on government assistance and meager cleaning lady salaries. The show quickly sparked conversation about poverty and domestic violence, as well as praise for White-Knuckle Qualley’s performance. As popularity grew, Land was no longer just a successful writer with haunting memories; she was recognized by strangers at the grocery store who were eager to watch another episode of “the most horrible things that have happened to me in my life”.
Land couldn’t look away either. She watched the first two episodes curled up under a blanket with 14-year-old Story (known as Maddy in the show), who turned to her at one point and said, “We’ve been out, but a lot didn’t.”
Worried fame wasn’t the only change for Land. She is now the proud owner of a home in Montana, including a wood-paneled “she shed” where she writes and gives interviews. She said of the pandemic purchase: ‘I’m married but only my name is on the title because I just needed it. I needed some sort of physical, legal document that said, “See, this is something you did.”
Ahead of his Jan. 25 chat with the LA Times Book Club, Land discussed reactions to the Netflix series, which was nominated for three Golden Globes and a SAG award for Qualley; the lasting trauma of poverty; and his next book project.
You have become a kind of success story of poverty. What does it do?
When the book came out and started making a lot of noise, I didn’t want to be “the face of poverty”. But I think I’m that face, I’m a success story. And I’m a college-educated white female. All of this made me a very sympathetic and palatable pauper that people listened to. I’ve had a lot of conversations with mentors who are people of color and they’ve been like, “Well, if they listen to you, it could affect other people in a really positive way. They might start listening to other people who are more marginalized than you. I just knew I was going to have to step up and stand up for others a lot, so I tried to make it my mission more than anything.
The Netflix series is its own distinct take on “Maid.” What did you think of the changes made to your story?
I’m glad they have it fictionalized, even though there are a lot of aspects that are emotionally the same. alexander [Qualley] is totally his own person. There were times in the show where Alex did or said something that I wish I had said or done. I totally should have turned to my mom and said, “You just helped me out of a homeless shelter. And now you’re forcing me to buy lunch? “There were moments that weren’t what I experienced but it was powerful for me to see all the same.
The series focuses more on domestic violence than you did in your book. What did you think of this choice and the viewers’ reaction to the on-screen relationship?
I knew it would come because [showrunner] Molly [Smith Metzler] told me about it. I thought it was brilliant. People will say, “Well, how did you let the abuse happen? And they showed exactly how it can happen, the whole cycle. I hope the show will save lives. I got a lot of comments on Instagram saying “the show finally made me divorce my husband or end this relationship” or “my daughter finally got out of her relationship and moved in with me”. Emotional abuse is so deadly, and it is not sufficiently recognized for what it is – abuse -.
Many viewers expressed their judgment on Alex’s decisions, which were often made out of desperation.
I came across this Reddit thread where someone wrote, “I don’t understand why she threw a birthday party for her kid and had toys? She didn’t need toys. Like why didn’t she buy flour instead of berries? » Etc. It’s like, “What are you saying? That the poor not only shouldn’t have nice things, but they should live on flour and rice and beans all the time, like it’s was okay?” Reminds me of how I would be judged every time I used food stamps. If I bought something like ice cream, that was one of the only times I could say ‘yes’ to my child. And this ice cream lasted a week it was a huge treat. Every time I could say yes to something to my child it was amazing. Instead of saying no to almost everything they have request.
The book and series describe how poverty wreaks havoc on many fronts: physical, mental and emotional. Your life is much different now, but are you still dealing with the traumas and physical repercussions of that time?
I still have a lot of physical stuff, which is just a part of me now. I still have a lot of nerve damage in my hand. Every time I deep clean my house, I feel how much my body doesn’t like this kind of work. I’m also faced with how I don’t really feel like I’m worth anything unless I’m actually working and working hard every moment I can.
What is the best way for each of us to help someone in poverty?
I bluntly tell people to get over themselves and that the poor need money. Or if it’s stuff, give them whatever’s on their list. If it’s socks and tampons, then give them socks and tampons and give them plenty. You can add anything you might find useful, but it probably isn’t. The poor know exactly what they need. And trust them to spend their money well. I saw someone on Twitter say, “Why would you give money to a homeless man to go buy drugs?” Someone replied, “Do you know how much the drugs cost??” There’s just this assumption that poor people are bad with money, that they can’t be trusted, that they’re going to waste it on alcohol. But when I was poor, no one was better on a budget than me. I knew where every penny was going.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a book called “Class,” about higher education and all the barriers low-income people face in that system. After the series came out, my editor said I could write whatever I wanted and for a while I pushed that freedom to the limit, but now it’s like I really have to write this book! Apart from that, I take care of three children and three dogs, one of which is the size of a pony. He has an affinity for remote controls.
Book Club: Stephanie Land
What: Stephanie Land discusses “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive” with Times reporter Paloma Esquivel at the LA Times Book Club.
When: 6 p.m. PST, January 25.
Or: Register for the virtual event on Eventbrite.
Newsletter: Join our community book club: latimes.com/bookclub