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Posts Tagged ‘reading guides’

Reader’s Guide: Q&A with Alison Weir, author of Elizabeth of York

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

978-0-345-52137-8History buffs, this one’s for you! Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents Elizabeth of York, the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline. Alison had a conversation with us about writing nonfiction, how she does her research, and much more. Check out the full Q&A here!

RHRC:Do you think that historians bring to their work something of their own perceptions and moral codes?

AW: Perhaps, but I think it is important to be as objective as possible, and to look at the subject within the context and moral compass of the age in which they lived. I have been accused, for example, of calling Katherine Howard promiscuous, because she took lovers before and after her marriage to Henry VIII; in modern terms that probably doesn’t make her so, but people in Tudor England certainly made such a judgment. It is tempting to judge historical figures by our own standards, but it should be resisted.

RHRC: Did you learn anything surprising from writing Elizabeth of York? If so, what was it?

AW: When researching a subject in depth, you always learn a lot about them, even if you thought you were conversant with them beforehand. You never know what the sources will reveal or how they enable you to achieve new perspectives. In researching this book I discovered a link in the royal accounts that literally made my jaw drop. It connected Elizabeth of York with Sir James Tyrell, the man who apparently confessed to murdering her brothers, the Princes in the Tower. No one had made the connection before.

RHRC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in the book?

AW: Not a thing.

Reader’s Guide: Q&A with Nancy Horan, author of UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

978-0-345-51654-1Nancy Horan’s newest book, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, is now available in paperback! The book tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny. Joining her for the Q&A is Lauren Belfer, author of the novels A Fierce Radiance (a Washington Post Best Novel of the Year, an NPR Best Mystery of the Year, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice Book) and City of Light (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times bestseller).

Lauren Belfer: When I first heard that Under the Wide and Starry Sky was about Robert Louis Stevenson, I thought—perfect, I’ll be spending time with an old friend. Was I ever wrong about that! Under the Wide and Starry Sky captures a Stevenson I never imagined and a story I never knew, a story that’s filled with adventure, anguish, and heartbreak. How did you discover the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne?

Nancy Horan: was visiting the Monterey Bay area and discovered that Stevenson had lived there in 1879. I wondered what the Scottish author of Treasure Island was doing there. I soon learned that he had come to California seeking to marry an American woman he had met in France. Naturally I was curious about the woman. Who was this Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne who so upended Stevenson’s life? I did some initial research about both of them, and when I learned about their amazing life together, I knew I had the concept for my next novel.

LB: Many readers wonder about the line between fact and fiction in “historical fiction.” When letters, journals, and diaries are available, do you quote the actual words of your characters, the way a biographer might? Do you have any personal rules to guide you, when you put real people into scenes and conversations that are imaginary?

NH: My general rule is that because these were real people, I try to get it as right as I can. I feel I owe it to them. I stick to agreed-upon facts as a framework, because it was the historical story that drew me in the first place. The dialogue is invented, except for a few quotes. When I use these lines I put them into the mouths of the people who spoke them. If I quote from a diary or letter, I put it in italics, and if it is more than a couple of sentences, I make note of it in the Afterword. Because Louis was a prolific letter writer and Fanny was a diary keeper, I was sometimes able to write dialogue informed by how the characters were feeling at the time. But people are not always forthcoming in their written correspondence or diaries. Even with the rich resource material available for this book, much interpretation and imagining took place.

Read the rest of their Q&A here, and connect with Nancy on Facebook!

Reader’s Guide: THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 3.04.15 PM Have you read the book everyone is raving about?

An enchanting storyteller, Chan is one of those rare authors who make you feel more fully alive.”
—Elizabeth Letts, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion


Like Elizabeth Letts, you’ll be drawn into Chan’s Mill River series. Dip in with your book club, and enjoy these discussion questions from Random House Reader’s Circle!

1. In the beginning of The Mill River Redemption, Josie DiSanti is traumatized and frightened. Over the course of the story, however, she becomes strong, self-sufficient, and confident. What do you feel is the single biggest factor in her transformation?

2. As a single parent, Josie tries to be everything to and provide everything for her daughters Rose and Emily. Given her situation, what do you feel were her greatest successes and failures as a parent? What might she have done differently?

3. Josie has to deal with an unpleasant boss in her first job as a single parent. Have you encountered a “Ned Circle”—i.e., someone who intentionally tried to make things difficult for you—in your own life or career? If so, how did you handle the situation?

4. As young adults, Rose and Emily DiSanti experience a terrible tragedy and become estranged, and Josie spends many years trying to help them reconcile. If you were in Emily’s position, could you forgive Rose for what she did? If you were in Rose’s position, could you ask Emily for forgiveness?

5. In your experience, is trying to forgive someone easier or more difficult if you love the person seeking the forgiveness?

6. Daisy Delaine repeatedly seeks to apologize to Rose for her perceived transgression at Josie’s wake. Do you think Rose’s response to Daisy is an expression of personal animosity or a result of the influence of alcohol?

7. How does Rose evolve from the moment she arrives in Mill River for the summer to the end of the story? Did your feelings toward her change over the course of the book?

8. Emily returns to Mill River to honor her mother’s wishes and also to confront her own past. Despite all that has happened, do you think she still loves her sister? Does she change as a person as events unfold? At the end of the story, do you believe she will really be able to forgive Rose for what she did?

9. Claudia Simon struggles with feelings of insecurity, even though Kyle gives her no reason to doubt his feelings until she sees him coming out of Emily’s house. If you had been in Claudia’s position, what would you have done at that point?

10. Ivy’s little bookstore is a labor of love and her life’s work. How does it reflect her personality?

11. Josie is desperate to see her girls’ estrangement end. Does she go too far in her efforts to force their reconciliation? Do you think that what she does is worth it in the end? What would you have done had you been in her position?

12. As a “recovering spoon addict,” Father O’Brien manages to keep his compulsion under control in this novel. Do you think that he will continue to refrain from stealing spoons, or do you think he will eventually relapse? Does his grief over Mary McAllister’s death have anything to do with his newfound self-control?

13. Sheldon sees Rose at an experimental theater performance and is taken with her immediately. Do you believe in love at first sight? If so, is it the kind of love that can withstand the challenges inherent in most marriages?

14. Near the end of the book, Josie refers to Father O’Brien as “a priceless antique that’s still functional.” Is there, or has there been, an elderly person in your life who fits that description? Who is or was it, and what made the person so special to you?

Join the conversation with Darcie Chan on Facebook and Twitter!

Giveaway Opportunity: Book Club Bundle

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 12.50.22 PMThe book club giveaway of your dreams is here! Enter for your chance to win a book club bundle from your friends here at Random House Reader’s Circle!

Featured titles include:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

Enter here for a chance to win!

Reader’s Guide: LISETTE’S LIST by Susan Vreeland

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 3.26.45 PM We’re recommending Susan Vreeland’s Lisette’s List, so if you or your book club choose it for a fall selection then be sure to enjoy these book club discussion questions!

1. Why did the novel need to begin with Pascal? How was he an important presence throughout the novel and an influence in Lisette’s deepening character?

2. What were the qualities that Lisette appreciated about André? About Maxime? Did this difference affect her love for both of them? How?

3. As Lisette was becoming more comfortable in Roussillon, what did she find in it that she liked, or even loved? As a reader, did you want her to make this adjustment, or were you holding out for a complete and speedy return to Paris? If she had moved back to Paris right after the end of the war, what would she have lost in addition to the paintings?

4. What made Lisette so conflicted about Bernard? What allowed her even to speak to him? Every gift he gave her had consequences. Should she have rejected and destroyed each one like she did the stockings? Were all the gifts similarly motivated and did they reveal the same qualities in Bernard? Was he wholly a bad man?

5. What constraints made finding the paintings take so long? How did Lisette’s changing emotional state contribute to the delay?

6. Was Héloïse a collaborator? Should she have been punished? Should Bernard have been punished? Should he have been removed from his post? In your mind, did his motives in siding with the Occupiers justify his stance? At one point in the revelation scene between Bernard and Lisette, she said, “I could charge you not just as a thief, but as a collaborator.” Why didn’t she? Do you respond differently to Bernard and to Héloïse?

7. With Maxime’s experience in the art world, he spoke at length in Chapter Twenty-three about what makes a painting great. Is there any criterion that he overlooked? Select a painting you love by any painter and apply Maxime’s criteria to it. What insightful observation about life or the world or yourself does the painting offer you?

8. How did the peripheral characters—Maurice, Sister Marie Pierre, Héloïse, Louise, Odette, Madame Bonnelly, Aimé Bonhomme—complement each other in influencing Lisette?

9. Consider the theme of articulation and communication. How did the scenes with Maxime and Lisette in the bories introduce this theme? What characters have a problem with communication? Under what circumstances do actions speak louder than words?

10. The letter by Marc Chagall to the artists of Paris is historically accurate except for mentioning the cause of Bella’s death. What effect did this letter have on Lisette, not just in terms of her emotional reaction but her subsequent thinking and actions? What did it enlarge for her? What did it make you realize about the possible loss of France’s art legacy? What would the effect of that loss be on France and French people? On the world?

11. In what way does Lisette’s List of Hungers and Vows differ from the popularized “bucket list” of contemporary usage? What was its purpose for her? Should she have added any hunger or vow that actually motivated her and that was missing? Why wasn’t “Participate in the art world in Paris” on her list? If you were to write such a list for yourself, what items might your list include?

12. In Chapter Sixteen, Lisette considers that it might be a higher art to invent a painting by assembling elements from one’s heart like Chagall did rather than painting only what one actually sees. She imagines such a painting of her own. What elements of her own life are reflected in her painting? What elements in your life might be reflected in such a painting if you were to paint your own Chagall?

13. What did you learn about art and its potential effect? About the region? About the Provençal character? About the war? Any war? Did any of these elements change your thinking?

Happy Reading! And be sure to stay in touch with Susan on her Facebook page!

Author Spotlight: Darcie Chan’s 6 Favorite Books

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 3.04.15 PMWe asked New York Times bestselling author Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Redemption, to share her 6 favorite books with us. She returned with a great list!

Darcie Chan’s Top Six Favorite Reads

I have loved reading all of my life. I found it very difficult to choose only six books as my favorites, as there are so many more that I could have included here! But, each of the following books is simply wonderful, and I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

Slow Way Home by Michael Morris

This gorgeous novel is variously funny, gut-wrenching, frustrating, and uplifting. Like all the books on this list, I thought it was beautifully written. The characters are utterly real and compelling, particularly eight-year-old Brandon, from whose perspective the story is written. The plot focuses on his grandparents’ struggle to protect him from their daughter, who runs off with her latest boyfriend and abandons him at a bus station. I’m the mother of a little boy, and Brandon’s plight touched me deeply. My heart ached for him and cheered with him at the end. Also, I was impressed by the author’s skill at pulling the reader into the story. The emotional resonance of the story is great, and I could almost feel the humidity of the South settling against my skin.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

There are very few books that completely blow me away, but this first novel did. Apparently, it had the same effect on many other people, as it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize! In this story about a childless couple in 1920s Alaska, the author’s choice of language is exquisite, and I was surprised at how skillfully the author wreaked havoc with my sensibilities. First, I was convinced that a wild little girl seen by the couple was a figment of their imaginations. But then, I started to believe the girl was real before being slung once again in the opposite direction. The answer is revealed in a moving, surprising ending. This story is unforgettable.

Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer

I tend to read mostly fiction, but this is a nonfiction book that I absolutely loved. It is a captivating story of the lifelong bond between a boy and a female Asian elephant. The story takes the reader from Europe, through the exotic teak forests of India, and then to the circus in the United States. It’s an amazing testament to the intelligence of elephants and of their ability to form lasting friendships with people.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

This story has so many wonderful aspects: a clever, creative plot, a cast of mostly lovable, oddball characters, and great humor, all wrapped up with a touch of whimsy. I had such a strong desire to pack up and move into the old Owens house—I could see it so clearly in my mind’s eye—and to get to know its inhabitants. And, having two younger sisters myself, I could truly appreciate the bond between Sally and Gillian. This is their coming-of-age story, one that ends with each sister finally finding happiness. I’ve reread this book several times, which is unusual for me, and I’ve come to think of it as an old friend.

A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan

I first read this story as a preteen and it captivated me, so much so that I reread it as an adult and enjoyed it just as much! After all, who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to be able to read other people’s minds? This is a story about three children, each of whom is blessed with a special gift. I love the relationships between the siblings in this book, too, and I was constantly guessing about what would happen next. This is a suspenseful story with a heartwarming ending.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This is my all-time favorite book. It was first published in 1943, and it provides a fascinating, in-depth look at a slice of American society in the early twentieth century. It is written with unflinching honesty, and many of the situations described are difficult to read emotionally, but the rewards of the story are just as great. Francie, the protagonist, is an incredible role model. This is her survival story, one with lessons that are still relevant today. What Francie achieves in the face of poverty and adversity is inspiring and exceptional.

Stay in touch with Darcie on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Grisham_Sycamore Row John Grisham takes you back to where it all began. One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Now we return to Ford County as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tensionin Sycamore Row.

Questions for Discussion

1. How is the novel shaped by the place in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it were set elsewhere? In a big city? In the North?

2. How is the novel shaped by the era in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it occurred today? How would the existence of cell phones and the Internet change this story?

3. If Seth is of sound mind and not unduly influenced by anyone, why do you think he attempts to right his family’s wrongs in this manner—through a posthumous letter and a holographic will— knowing that it will provoke such intense conflict? Are his actions considerate of Lettie? Are they unfair to his family? Do they put Jake in an unnecessarily difficult position? In the same situation, what would you have done?

4. Do you think the verdict—all five parts of it—was correct? Do you think Judge Atlee’s modification of the verdict was fair?

5. Do you think Judge Atlee was a good judge? In the instances where he allowed legally questionable evidence to be presented, did he make the right choices?

6. On page 92, Lucien and Jake debate the differences between the Carl Lee Hailey trial and the upcoming Hubbard trial. Jake tells Lucien, “That was all about race. This is all about money.” Lucien replies, “Everything is about race in Mississippi, Jake, don’t ever forget that.” Who do you think is right? Are they both right?

7. How does the theme of forgiveness shape this novel?

8. Public opinion can play a significant role in influencing juries and, therefore, verdicts—but public opinion isn’t necessarily shaped by objective facts. How did gossip, exaggerations, rumors, and out- right lies (both printed and spoken) shape the trial outcome?

9. What role did memory play in the legal proceedings? For Lettie? For Ancil? For the jury?

10. What did you learn about the legal process in reading this novel? Did it change your perception of lawyers or America’s judicial system?

11. Who in this novel exhibits selflessness? Who exhibits selfishness? Are there characters who exhibit both? Who is the hero of this novel?

12. How responsible are we for the actions of our ancestors?

Book clubbers! Be sure to stay in touch with John Grisham on his Facebook page. You can also learn more about his events and upcoming news on his website!

Reader’s Guide: UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Hillenbrand_Unbroken Have you ever wanted to sit down with bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand to chat with her about her writing, Unbroken, Louie, and more? Well, we got a chance to do that here at Random House Reader’s Circle, and we want to share everything with you! For even more of the additional bonus features check out the back of your paperback copy of Unbroken.

RANDOM HOUSE READER’S CIRCLE: Louie Zamperini is a larger-than-life figure. He enjoyed a measure of fame in his youth—both during his running career and after surviving the POW camps—but was relatively unknown in the second half of the twentieth century. How did you first learn about Louie? When did you realize there was a book in his story?

LAURA HILLENBRAND: My first book was about the Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit. While working on it, I pored over 1930s newspapers. One day I was reading a 1938 clipping about the horse when I happened to turn the paper over and find a profile of a young running phenomenon named Louie Zamperini. I started reading. Louie had not yet gone to war, but his story was already so interesting that I jotted his name down in my Seabiscuit research notebook.

Later, I came across Louie’s name again, and this time I learned a little about his wartime odyssey. I was very intrigued, and when I finished writing Seabiscuit: An American Legend, I did some searching, found an address for Louie, and wrote him a letter. He wrote back, I called him, and I found myself in the most fascinating conversation of my life. He told me his story, and I was captivated.

So many elements of Louie’s saga were enthralling, but one in par- ticular hooked me. He told of having experienced almost unimaginable abuse at the hands of his captors, yet spoke without self-pity or bitterness. In fact, he was cheerful, speaking with perfect equanimity. When he finished his story, I had one question: How can you tell of being victimized by such monstrous men, yet not express rage? His response was simple: Because I forgave them.
It was this, more than anything, that hooked me. How could this man forgive the unforgivable? In setting out to write Louie’s biography, I set out to find the answer.

RHRC: You’ve written about two exceptional, unlikely running sensations of the first half of the twentieth century, weaving deeply moving, inspirational narratives around them. What, to you, is a good subject— what do you look for?

LH: In times of extremity, ordinary individuals must reach into the depths of themselves, and there they find the true content of their character. Some find emptiness, frailty, even dark impulses. But others find wondrous virtues—courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, daring, ingenuity, the will to soldier on when will is all they have left. These are the virtues that turn history, and these are the virtues that enable individuals to prevail in the supreme trials of their lives. It is in times of superlative hardship that individuals live their epic adventures, stories that thrill, fascinate, inspire, and illuminate. Theirs are the stories I’m drawn to.

I also think the best subjects offer the opportunity to use a small story to tell a much larger one. One could approach Seabiscuit as simply a rags-to-riches racehorse who lived seventy-five years ago. By itself, it’s a marvelous tale. But in his remarkable life, and in the lives of his automobile magnate owner, his frontiersman trainer, and his former prizefighting jockey, lies the far larger story of America in the Great Depression. I gathered as much detail as I could about the intimate lives of my subjects, but also backed up to show their context, the era of tremendous upheaval in which they were living, and the way in which they embodied the spirit and struggle of that era.

Louie, like Seabiscuit, is just one individual. But his odyssey carried him into the greatest cataclysm in history, giving me the chance to tell a tale vastly broader in scope than that of any single athlete or soldier, one encompassing Hitler’s Olympics, the Pacific war, and the experience of American military airmen, Japanese POW camp guards, prisoners of war, and veterans. You can’t truly understand an individual unless you understand the world he or she inhabits, and in illustrating that individual’s world, you will, hopefully, capture history in the accessible, tactile, authentic way in which the times were actually experienced. In Unbroken as in Seabiscuit, I tried to paint portraits not just of individuals, but of their times.

To continue reading this interview, check out the RHRC materials in the back of your paperback copy of Unbroken!

Reader’s Guide: A WEDDING IN PROVENCE by Ellen Sussman

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Sussman_Wedding in Provence“Utterly charming and wildly romantic.”—Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

…And that’s just one bit of praise about this summer’s romantic feast for the senses. A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman

When Olivia and Brody drive up to their friend’s idyllic inn—nestled in a valley in the Mediterranean town of Cassis—they know they’ve chosen the perfect spot for their wedding. The ceremony will be held in the lush garden, and the reception will be a small party of only their closest family and friends. But when Olivia and Brody’s guests check in, their peaceful wedding weekend is quickly thrown off balance.

If this is on your reading list, then we hope you’ll check out these questions and topics for discussion from your friends at Random House Reader’s Circle. Happy Reading!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. A Wedding in Provence starts by introducing a happy couple on the way to their idyllic wedding. How did this affect your expectations for the book? Were you nervous about how events would unravel?

2. Nell is clearly a loose cannon. What were your initial thoughts when she decided to bring Gavin to the wedding? Did you think he was dangerous, or just a fun-loving, spontaneous stranger?

3. Were you surprised when Carly took off with Gavin? Why or why not?

4. In many ways Carly is Nell’s opposite, but the two sisters end up attracted to the same man, however briefly. Is it possible that they aren’t actually as different as they seem? Do you think they share any other qualities?

5. At the beginning of Chapter Sixteen Olivia and Emily are discussing Nell’s vulnerability. Was Emily’s advice to Olivia helpful? How would you have suggested Olivia manage her daughters’ differences?

6. After learning that Sebastien cheated on Emily, Olivia is clearly rattled. She says “We’re brave old fools…. We still choose love when we know everything that can happen,” (pg.19). Do you think a marriage can survive infidelity?

7. What did you think of Sam leaving Fanny after fifty-five years of marriage and refusing to come to Brody’s wedding? Were you surprised when you found out why?

8. Throughout the novel Olivia and Brody are faced with numerous obstacles that threaten to ruin their low-key wedding weekend. From Nell’s surprise guest, to Carly’s disappearance, to Sebastien’s infidelity, which do you think caused the biggest stir? Why?

9. Of all the characters in the novel, which one did you most sympathize with?

10. Even though Olivia’s big day is the backbone of the plot, the narrative rotates between her perspective and each of her daughters’. Was there ever a time when you felt drawn to one of the three points of view more than the others? If so, when and why?

11. As Olivia and Brody get ready to commit to marriage, they witness their friends and family struggling with relationships. Is their love tested by these struggles? Do you think it’s hard to say yes to love when we know everything that might go wrong in a marriage?

12. Of all the themes present in this novel – love, loss, starting fresh – which resonated with you the most? Why?

Stay connected with Ellen on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: ENON by Paul Harding

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Harding_ENONA Conversation Between Paul Harding and Shelf Unbound

The following is excerpted from an interview that appeared in the February/March 2014 issue of Shelf Unbound.

Shelf Unbound: You dispense with the obvious plot line in the first chapter: Charlie Crosby’s thirteen-year-old daughter is killed in an accident and his wife leaves him.The rest of the novel unfolds the myriad ways Charlie attempts to distance himself from his pain but not from the memory of his daughter. How did you go about structuring the novel?

Paul Harding: Pretty much just as you describe. I wanted to lay all of the cards on the table, right up front, so there was nowhere to hide.The first paragraph is like the opening of an old newspaper article: who, what, why, when, where. It’s one thing to know all of the facts, one thing to understand the facts intellectually, abstractly, as, say,“tragic.” It’s another thing, though—the job of a novel, a work of art—to describe the human implications of those facts, the experience of them by a particular, imperfect human being. It was also one of those challenges you set for yourself as a writer, because such challenges are why you write; the language and the art are there because they have the capacities to explore the impossible facts of human experience, in this case of tragedy. How possibly to express the impossible fact of losing your daughter? A voice breaks the silence and begins an attempt at an account. . . .

The structure of the novel emerged as I listened to Charlie tell the story, one sentence at a time. I think of the book as a confession, like St. Augustine’s—one voice speaking intimately and directly, in good faith, to the reader, trying to account for the speaker’s actions, as flawed and troublesome as they might be. I didn’t want there to be any layers of narrative between the reader and Charlie’s experience. It had to be direct, because so much of the book is about Charlie trying to figure out how to be equal to the tragedy of losing his child, how to improvise a new language, a new perspective, a new, heartbroken humanity out of what remains. His response is fragmented and off-balance and radically disoriented, full of advances and retreats and redoubts and descriptions of how, to paraphrase Shakespeare, his heart is not confederate with his hand, and that is reflected in how the book is structured. There’s no overseeing narrator next to or, perish the thought, above him, tidying things up, smoothing things over for the reader. It’s raw, in real time.The book was also always a monologue—again, a single voice speaking directly to the reader. It is meant to read like a book fromtation.

SU: Your debut novel, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer in 2010. How did the weight of expectation for Enon impact your experience of writing it and perhaps even the novel itself?

PH: I was lucky in that Random House had bought Enon and I was seventy-five or so pages into a draft before Tinkers won the Pulitzer. That and the fact that the editor who bought the book, Susan Kamil, had not read Tinkers before she picked up Enon helped a lot. Whenever the gravitational pull of Tinkers threatened to distract me from the particular difficulties of composing Enon, I was able to go back to those first seventy-five pages and remind myself, whatever the solution, it lies in here, not in Tinkers.

As far as the worldly distractions of following up a successful debut and so forth, I didn’t let them worry me much. Publishing is a rowdy, contact sport, and I’m just as opinionated as the next reader about what books I think are solid works of art or clever, depthless sleight of hand. After the feel-good story behind Tinkers, I knew that no matter what there’d be some, um, blowback, so I just ignore it. Tinkers took guff before and after the prize, Enon will take its fair share of guff, too, and that’s how it is. I always tell my writing students, don’t write your books for readers who won’t like them, and don’t write your books for bad readers. Enon is consistent with its own terms, not Tinkers’s terms, and that’s bound to fluster some people. I was a drummer in a kind of second-or third-tier touring rock band for years, and once you’ve had the piss taken out of you by, for example, the English rock press, a snippy notice from, as William Hazlitt described it, a reviewer engaging in irrelevant smartness at the writer’s expense seems downright quaint. Really, I should be so lucky that my biggest problem is dealing with following up a Pulitzer Prize–winning debut novel, you know?

SU: Charlie is the grandson of the main character in Tinkers. Why did you decide to revisit this family and to continue exploring themes of time, loss, and nature?

PH: Well, the book came to me as a visual image accompanied by a version of that first paragraph. Or the first paragraph contains the fundamental facts that I understood from the visual image, which was a sort of black paper silhouette cutout of a steep hill studded with gravestones and the figure of a man skulking across its crown, under the moon and stars. I knew all at once that it was the Enon cemetery, that the man was Charlie Crosby, that he was scurrying home after a night of misadventure, that his daughter was buried below at the bottom of the hill, and that he was sneaking behind her grave because he was ashamed of who he had become since she died. It was a fairly traditional, classic, mythical, legendary story, like Orpheus, like Persephone. From there it was just a matter of quietly listening for, then to, his voice, of listening and watching as he attempts to reckon with what happened.

Thematically, time, loss, nature, memory are what I find myself always obsessing over.Those things are the hallmark mysteries of our fraught human careers. They are essential and irreducible. With Enon, I also found myself putting pressure on things like belief. In what do we believe? How is belief constructed? How does it persist or corrode? What is belief? What happens when the world in which we believe, or think we believe, assume we believe, evaporates? Charlie enacts all of these improvised personal rituals; it’s like he conjures or improvises a religion based on the worship of his dead daughter, something he understands is bad news, but in which he nevertheless persists for some time. And that fascinated me, too—the discrepancy between what we know and what we do. He knows better than he acts. It’s St. Paul, the evil which I do not want to do is that which I do, and the good I mean to do is that which I do not do.

Check out the back of your trade paperback copy of ENON for more of this interview as well as questions and topics for your book club discussion!

Shoe
Bertelsmann Media Worldwide