News & Politics

The Quarantine Questionnaire: Sarah Blake, Author of The Postmistress and The Guest Book

The DC novelist talks about walking in the rain and 11 other ways she's getting through quarantine.

What’s the best thing you’ve streamed? Most useful thing in your freezer? Dream day when this is all over? In search of inspiration—and, let’s be honest, a bit of voyeurism—we’re asking Washingtonians (current and recently former) how they’re passing the time and getting through quarantine. Here’s Sarah Blake, author of Grange House, The Postmistress, and other books. Her most recent bestseller, The Guest Book, just came out in paperback.

Photograph courtesy of Sarah Blake.

Best book I’ve read: At the beginning of the quarantine, I was re-reading Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” with my high school senior, and our conversation about the power of what goes unsaid was academic, philosophical—but now, beginning week eight, I keep returning to the brilliant eruption that centers that story, thinking about the woman’s exhaustion and exasperation with words when her situation is inescapable, physical, and the line takes on a quarantine edge: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

Best thing I’ve streamed: We have been watching the television series, West World. There is so much to chew over: What constitutes humanity? What are the delights and dangers of a story? What happens when you come to see the bars of the story you are in?

Best podcast: Slate’s Political Gabfest has a great quarantine episode with the therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, discussing changes and challenges to relationships in quarantine. 

Best meme: A woman in a closet in California (below), the most hysterically funny monologue about marriage and the quarantine I’ve yet seen.

Most useful thing in the freezer: Frozen scallops and shrimp and chopped clams. Grill them! Pasta them! Sauce them! Three nights. Done and done.

Least useful thing in the freezer: My adult son’s stashed apple vodka and cinnamon whiskey. What on earth does one do with them? And they take up prime real estate. (Though, now that I think of it, by the end of this week, they may start to become the most useful thing in the freezer!)

Quarantine goal: Learn how to clean my kitchen in under two hours: I get distracted by my own shelves, and find that the accumulated dirt at the back of them and the need to get up on a ladder triggers a vast inertia—so I stand there instead, alphabetizing the cans of beans, while the sponge remains idle, and the hours tick by.

Favorite takeout: Local vegan taco gem Chaia’s Supper Enchiladas—mushroom or black bean—and their elderberry kombucha!

Favorite comfort food to make at home: Deb Perlman’s Everyday Meatballs from the Smitten Kitchen website.

Go-to at-home cocktail: Always, a deep glass of a good red wine

Best coping mechanism: Long walks mid-day in the woods, rain or sun. I am everyday grateful for the amount of green—that is blooming greener—in this city. Breaking the day into two parts allows a reset if it starts to careen.

Dream day once this all ends: That is the day I wake up without the sense of oh, right, still here, still this. When anything is possible again. But I hope I carry with me into that day my newly dialed-down expectation for what can be accomplished, and a clearer acknowledgement of what taking care of one another—in and outside my house—truly looks like.

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.