Excerpted from I Knew You'd Be Lovely by Alethea Black. Copyright © 2011 by Alethea Black. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“[A] sly and emotionally complex debut collection…[Black’s] unflinching candor allows her to mine extraordinary revelations.” –Boston Globe
“Alethea Black's characters are witty […] without turning caustic, and remain mostly cheerful about their uncertain futures—just the kind of people with whom we want to connect.” — Corrie Pikul, Oprah.com
“This debut reads like a dream, with nary a false note…a well-balanced collection filled with low-key charm and notable talent.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A sense of vulnerable restlessness is betrayed by the otherwise pragmatic characters of Black’s strong debut collection.” – Publishers Weekly
“I Knew You’d Be Lovely is an impressive offering, from a strong new voice, of stories about life’s desperation.” – Joseph Arellano, New York Journal of Books
“Alethea Black is downright brilliant at capturing the restless striving for a self that we all are feeling in this parlous and unsettling age. I Knew You’d Be Lovely is a splendidly resonant debut by an important young writer.” – Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
“ With humor, honesty and wary hope, Alethea Black’s stories capture the pain and power of loving fully—and celebrate life’s small astonishments amid our shared human search for the divine. I KNEW YOU’D BE LOVELY is thoughtful, entertaining and, ultimately, powerful.” – Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter
"When I came to the end I wanted to read the next page - or write it, but then I realized that there was no more to be said; as in the Navajo prayer, 'In beauty it is finished.'"--N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winning author of House Made of Dawn
“Alethea Black writes with a deceptively light touch, yet her work packs a serious punch...There’s a spiritual hunger in her stories reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor, combined with a voice that is all her own.” – Sharon Pomerantz, author of Rich Boy
“Reading Alethea Black’s seemingly effortless prose is like slipping into water – the eerily clear kind, that shows you more than you may want to see.” – Glen Hirshberg, winner of the 2008 Shirley Jackson Award
“Alethea Black can drop you into a dream with a single sentence, then convince you it’s real. Her characters’ best hopes and worst fears usually come to pass, often in fabulous ways, but their adventures feel inevitable and true—not only because Ms. Black richly imagines her people, but because she loves them. I Knew You’d Be Lovely is a lovely debut, with masterful prose and inspired invention on every page.”
—Ralph Lombreglia, author of Men Under Water
"There's a touch of Lorrie Moore in Alethea Black's stories, but the voice is all her own. Black writes about love, yes, but she also writes about solitude--its travails and its pleasures--with a winning combination of insight and charm. I Knew You'd Be Lovely is a terrific debut." – Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony
“Black’s is a rich, accomplished and startlingly good literary presence…the 13 stories collected here are well-crafted and engaging. Black’s observations on life, love and the human condition are keen and welcome.” –Monica Stark, januarymagazine.blogspot.com
“The title of Black’s collection reflects the optimism buoying these 13 stories…[Black’s] nimble wit carries her through.” – Vikas Turakhia, Cleveland Plain Dealer
I. That of Which We Cannot Speak
1) “You may never be 100% understood,” Samantha says. “I’d settle for 55%.” To what degree do you feel understood by the people in your life? To what extent do you think it’s possible for us to truly understand one another?
2) How different do you think this relationship would have been had Samantha had her voice when they met?
II. The Only Way Out Is Through
3) Fetterman appears to try earnestly and often to bond with his son. What do you think is the reason for their lack of connection?
4) At the end of this story, we are given a glimpse into the future. Do you like knowing what will happen to Derek? Would you rather it remained a mystery?
III. Good in a Crisis
5) Ginny claims to not want intimacy. “Why label as fear what is simply a choice?” she asks. Do you believe her, or do you think she is commitment-phobic? Are there clues in the story that point to why she might be afraid of relationships?
6) Why did she become a teacher? Do you think she has changed her views about herself by the story’s end?
IV. The Thing Itself
7) What is happening with Janet at the end (did you know without reading the Author’s Notes)? Would you have interpreted it differently without knowing the author’s intent?
8) Is this a happy ending? Why or why not?
V. The Laziest Form of Revelation
9) The narrator’s friend asks: “[W]hy do you surround yourself with people who can only give you carrots?” Do you think that Ruby is intentionally choosing people who are unavailable? Based on your own experiences, are artists and other creative people more likely to be emotionally unavailable than others?
VI. The Summer Before
10) How significant is the parents’ divorce to the events of this story?
11) James believes everything happens for a reason. Do you agree? How is that idea reflected in his actions?
12) How bridgeable is the distance between the two sisters at the end? What do you think their relationship will be like in the future?
VII. Mollusk Makes a Comeback
13) What do you think Katie’s struggle is really about?
14) If people are in a downward spiral, as she seems to be, should we let them continue to fall and “hit bottom”? Do you think it’s possible to influence another person’s self-love or self-worth?
VIII. I Knew You’d Be Lovely
15) Imagine what would happen in a sequel to this story. Would Hannah’s well-intentioned gift backfire?
16) Sydney does not approve of the “possessive” aspect of love. But what would a world characterized by her ideals look like? Do you think monogamy is necessary for a society to run smoothly?
IX. Proof of Love
17) Why does Kelly feel so compelled to share her faith?
18) Is proselytization inherently insulting to the person on the receiving end? How appropriate do you think it is in this context, and in other situations you may have experienced?
20) How much do math and magic have to do with this story?
21) What is the role of the absent sister?
XI. The Far Side of the Moon
22) What is it about Mandy that makes the narrator still miss her after all these years? Is it simply because she was the one that got away?
23) Could there have been something in the box?
XII. Someday Is Today
14) What is the relationship in this story between faith and family? How does it compare to your sense of family, and your experiences of faith?
25) Do you think what the narrator does in the hospital is wrong? How would you have reacted if a similar incident happened to you and your loved ones?