Author Megan Abbott Brings ‘The End of Everything’ Back to the Burbs

Cover ImageMystery writer Megan Abbott is no stranger to Michigan. The award-winning author grew up in the Detroit area, attended Grosse Pointe North High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. Though Abbott currently makes her home in Queens, New York, she’ll be bringing her latest novel, The End of Everything, back home this week.

Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You and Queenpin. Abbott was already a favorite among fellow writers when her 2009 novel Bury Me Deep swiftly moved her into the mainstream.

The End of Everything is Abbott’s first work to take place in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, and takes place during the 1980’s of Abbott’s adolescence. The End  is a departure from Abbott’s other books, which draw more from history, film and true-crime.

“It’s definitely the world of my hometown,” Abbott shares. “It seemed like the whole summer world was conducted in backyards, sprinklers, Ernie Harwell on the radio, mosquitoes and peering through window and door screens.”

Abbott originally started writing The End of Everything back in the late 1990’s, and admits that returning to her roots for material feels a little risky.

“We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up,” Abbott tells Mulholland Books, “and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.”

Abbott will be returning to the suburbs for a reading and signing of The End of Everything at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm. If you can’t make Abbott’s Birmingham appearance, you can link here for a full schedule of the author’s events.

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-Post by Megan Shaffer

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ‘Once Upon A River’ Sets Sail

Things are looking way up for Kalamzaoo author Bonnie Jo Campbell. This week W.W. Norton & Company released Campbell’s much anticipated new novel, Once Upon A River, to the reading world at large.

Due to early buzz and glowing reviews, Once Upon A River  has managed to position itself onto a number of notable summer reading lists (prior to its release, mind you), and  serve to establish Campbell as one of the nation’s new literary darlings.

I haven’t yet cracked the spine of Campbell’s latest, but with recent favorable features in  publications such as Poets & Writers, the Detroit Free Press, and the Wall Street Journal, Once Upon A River promises good things to come.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Campbell at a National Writers Series event where she eloquently spoke of the integral role that Michigan plays in her writing process. The winsome author has done much for Michigan’s artistic reputation and has no doubt been a key player in prominently situating the state on the larger literary landscape.

No fancy release parties are planned for this author though. Campbell will celebrate the launching of her book with friends and family. Her tribe. “One thing I’ve learned about the writing business is that you can be up and you can be down, but you’re still the same person,” (via Free Press).

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– Post by Megan Shaffer

Ann Patchett’s ‘State of Wonder’ Certain to Leave You Wondering

Cover ImageWe’ve come to expect big things from bestselling author Ann Patchett. As winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for her international beauty Bel Canto back in 2002, Patchett unwittingly raised her literary bar and cleared the way for a large and loyal fan base.

Highlighted by the success of Bel Canto, Patchett has amassed a reliable readership and now publishes to eager, outstretched hands. With five praised novels to her name and one currently situated on several prominent reading lists, Patchett has been slow to disappoint. In her latest novel State of Wonder, however, Patchett just might find devotees a touch disenchanted.

Patchett’s State of Wonder boldly tackles the snarled, cacophonous wilds of the Amazonian jungle. Yet for all of the novel’s shimmering flora, pulsating hues, masticating insects, shrieking monkeys and tribal ululations, why are we left hearing only crickets?

State of Wonder starts out strong despite its floppy premise. The introduction of key characters and plot lines instantly hook and anticipation builds at the first hint of scandal. Like the exhilarating, paced ascent of a roller coaster readying for the ride, readers sense big thrills to come. Alas, as the setting switches from the midwest to Brazil, State of Wonder peters out at the perch and clambers down into a disjointed tale of outlandish proportion.

“It’s not that I don’t have any idea; it’s that I sometimes have too many ideas,” shared Patchett in a recent Tin House interview, and this is no doubt the troubling case in State of Wonder. Bioethics, biracialism, corporate greed and cultural integrity are but a few of the many story threads that still remain slack at the conclusion of Patchett’s work.

Despite the medicinal treasures that potentially abound in the Amazonian underbrush, Patchett overplays the topic in State of Wonder and takes it a bit too far. “Science came in for the first time with Run,” Patchett tells Tin House, “and then it just kind of blew up into something a lot bigger in State of Wonder… .”

Well put. An author can only take their audience so far before they run the risk of losing them in their own imaginative flight. By the time Patchett has Marina eating bark off the trees and the Lakashi tribe swabbing their private parts for the sake of modern science, it’s fairly safe to say that Patchett has left her readers staring into space.

That said, Patchett does have a gift for beautiful prose and her depth of character and relationship are at times palpable. In addition, the lush, layered descriptions of the Amazon and its foreboding tributaries are striking. In all fairness, State of Wonder offers significant literary style if not grace.

It’s possible that I might be in my own camp on this one, though it wouldn’t be the first time. State of Wonder  was just released on June 7th and is steadily climbing the charts and garnering written raves. Not only does State of Wonder grace the current cover of BookPage, but it’s also a June 2011 Indie Next List selection and was recently featured on The Diane Rehm Show. If you’ve read State of Wonder, NLR would love to know what you think.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times book review

Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

‘The Known World’ Falls Flat for Friends Book Group

DetailsIt had been a while since my last visit it to the Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone book group discussion at Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham. The Baldwin Public Library’s monthly group met just last week, so I made it a point to pull up a chair and join the conversation on their latest pick The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Jones’s Pulitzer Prize winner apparently didn’t have quite the same awe-inspiring effect on the book club as it did on the literary masses. While it was agreed by all that The Known World certainly deserves the nod it received globally for its content, the heavy-hitting work of fiction made a much softer thud among the group at Zuma.

Though the Friends had mixed reviews regarding The Known World, the book decidedly paved the way for interesting paths of digression. Haves versus have-nots, indentured servants, modern day slaves, and racial passing were just a few of the many hot topics that kept the coffee and conversation flowing.

For some readers finishing a book and moving right on to the next title simply isn’t enough. Readers often feel the need to dig a little deeper and hash out the themes and meanings behind different authors and their works; for this the book club is key.

While there are some who equate the idea of a good book discussion with that of a solid snooze, many of us who voraciously read find it nothing but narcotic. Attempting to fit the literary pieces of a written work into the larger puzzle of life is not a thundering headache, but rather a nice pop of head candy in an otherwise “think for you” world.

The Friends group is an easy, ever-changing, laid back bunch. However, if you’re more the solitary type there are a couple of smart book groups online that have caught my eye over the past few months. I haven’t participated in any of them but Algonquin, The New Yorker, and NPR all offer interactive sites where readers can engage.

If you are interested in joining the next Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone book group discussion, it will take place at Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 pm. Kathryn Bergeron, who hosts the monthly meetings, has announced The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows as the next selection. Copies are available at the Baldwin Public Library.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Jennifer Egan Grabs 2011 Pulitzer for ‘Goon Squad’

Cover ImageThe winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded to Jennifer Egan for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. The Pulitzer site calls Goon Squad “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.”

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (originally called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel) is awarded to an American author for distinguished fiction, preferably dealing with American life.

Egan, who already won the National Book Critics Circle award earlier this year for Goon Squad, told WSJ’s Speakeasy, “It’s absolutely nutty to win something like this. I feel weird. I wish I had something more articulate to say.” Egan added that the Pulitzer committee has “been really eclectic in their choices” and that “they’ve honored a pretty wide spectrum of books.” Last year’s Pulitzer went to Paul Harding for his quiet work Tinkers.

Winning the prestigious Prize is invaluable in terms of promotion and notoriety for Egan. Founded on the principles of journalist Joseph Pulitzer, the Prize was established to recognize excellence in letters. Not only will Egan take home $10,000 in prize money, but more importantly, she will join a long list of distinguished authors in the Fiction category dating back to 1948.

Famed authors such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Alice Walker are but a few of the weighty Fiction Prize recipients who dot the Pulitzer timeline.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– Egan’s author page and related links at Random House review of Visit From the Goon Squad

Beauty and the Bleak – Kathleen Winter’s ‘Annabel’

Cover ImageAnnabel, the novel by Canadian writer Kathleen Winter, has made its way onto the 2011 Orange Prize shortlist where it now joins five other titles from female authors across the globe. Also a finalist for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize and a bestseller in Canada, Annabel has garnered high praise for its gripping prose and depth of human understanding.

Annabel is the tale of Wayne, an intersex boy born and raised in rural Labrador (Winter herself is a native of Newfoundland). Winter’s work is profound, and draws on the steeped traditions and vibrations of Labrador’s landscape. Those who reside in Labrador have long read the skies for signs and looked to the harsh earth for answers. As Winter throws herself into the body of Wayne, she makes accessible to her readers the complex struggles of a sexual anomaly in a small, conventional world.

Annabel is a tricky work to push, which might make it tough to snag the Orange Prize. While Winter’s work is truly beautiful in scope and compassion, Annabel might be a tough sell for the sexually queasy or those who read only for sheer entertainment.

For the more serious reader, however, it is of note that every single one of Winter’s characters is worthy of in-depth conversation and her vision of Labrador and its Inuit people fascinates. Annabel is a patient novel that requires a reader’s patience in kind to truly appreciate Winter’s intent. Assuming she is the deep thinker and humanitarian she appears to be, Winter just might be more concerned with the impact of her work and subject matter rather than accrued prizes.

Though I liked Annabel and will certainly be a better reader and writer because of Winter’s work, I still have a few books to go on my Orange Prize “To Read” list. No doubt Emma Donoghue’s Room will be tough to beat from a popularity standpoint, and American author Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) is also in the ring with her novel Great House. Only time will tell, the winner of this year’s Orange Prize will be announced in June.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times Review: Announcing Her Existence

Scotia Bank: Kathleen Winter Video Profile

The 2011 Man Booker International Prize Finalists Announced – Le Carre Bows Out

Thirteen selected finalists have been announced for the fourth Man Booker International Prize. The monetary award recognizes one writer for his or her accomplishments in fiction.

Of the 2011 finalists, The Man Booker site states, “The authors come from eight countries, five are published in translation and there are four women on the list. One writer has previously won the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction and two have been shortlisted.”

How does The Man Booker International Prize differ from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction? The Man Booker Prize for Fiction has been around for over 40 years and aims to reward “the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.” The Man Booker International Prize, however, was just launched in 2005, has a higher monetary reward, and recognizes one writer for his or her overall achievement in fiction.

“The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage,” the official site states. “In seeking out literary excellence, the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel.”

The 2011 finalists from the USA this year include Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, and Anne Tyler. Interestingly, John le Carre withdrew his name from the list. Le Carre’s literary agents, Curtis Brown, released this statement to the Booker site:

“I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of (the) 2011 Man Booker International Prize. However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”

The winner will be announced on May 18, 2011 at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Click over to The Man Booker International Prize FAQ’s for more information on the Prize and its sponsors.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Taylor Stevens Aims to Thrill with “The Informationist”

Cover Image“I have no desire to make a political statement or to educate. It’s like, if you enjoy it, that’s awesome. That’s enough for me.”

So states debut author Taylor Stevens in an interview piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram* earlier this week. Stevens recently released her first thriller “The Informationist” to high praise, and seems to have no agenda other than aiming to please.

The Informationist is a fast-paced thriller fueled by the high-octane character of information specialist Vanessa “Michael” Munroe. Munroe is inevitably being compared to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Stevens’s heroine Munroe seems to be holding her own. The New York Times calls The Informationist an “accessible, crisply told tale” and notes that Ms. Stevens “has a knack for both evocative details” and “strangely compelling character traits.”

The past life of Stevens is evocative in its own right, and those interested in the book will easily get snagged by her incredible bio. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the author’s past until I caught the blurb under Stevens’s picture on the jacket. “Born into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe, and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Taylor Stevens broke free of the cult in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond.”

If sensation sells then Stevens should be in great shape. Not only is her book supposedly full of intrigue, but her life story is as well. Stevens was born into a cult known as the Children of God, which is now called The Family International. Stevens hopes, however, to downplay that side of her life which left her deprived of an education and locked away with no food for her attempts at writing at just fifteen years of age.

Fiction is tough to push and much is being made of Stevens’s past, which is no doubt generating added interest in The Informationist. However, Stevens seems to be straightforward in her interviews and pragmatic in her approach. “I hope that people feel it is worth their money and their time, which is even more valuable than money,” the author says in the Star piece, “But what I hope ultimately matters most to people is the fact that I can tell a good story.”

News sources indicate that Taylor Stevens will release her second Vanessa Munroe installment, The Innocent, sometime next year and has been contracted for a third book as well.

-Support your local bookstores, universities, and libraries. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Information/Links

The Informationist Trailer – Part 1

The Informationist Trailer – Part 2

The Informationist Trailer – Part 3

“The Paris Wife” Renews Interest in Literary Heavy Hitters

DetailsIf you haven’t yet heard of Paula McLain’s new novel The Paris Wife then it’s time to tune in. The Paris Wife “brilliantly captures the voice and heart of Hadley Hemingway as she struggles with her roles as a woman – wife, lover, muse, friend, and mother – and tries to find her place in the intoxicating and tumultuous world of Paris in the twenties.”*

And I can vouch. McLain does indeed capture the voice of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, or most certainly a voice of the times. McLain’s language and tone easily transport to a bohemian Paris swirling with artists and poets both over and on the cusp of discovery.

Cover ImageReading one good thing often leads to another, and the joys of connecting the never-ending literary dots is a pursuit of pleasure for the avid reader. The Paris Wife is a testament to this fact and is certain to spark interest in the diverse works that germinated in 1920’s Paris and continue to flourish today.

McLain’s book reintroduces some big-time literary players. Having only recently finished The Paris Wife,  I’ve already sought out Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast as well as the works of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound among others. Also, if you are looking for an historical follow-up piece for McLain’s work you might try Americans in Paris by Charles Glass, a deeply researched and highly detailed non-fiction work focusing on American expats living in Paris.

The Paris Wife site is a beauty, so even if you don’t care to read the book you should at least check out the photos of both the Hemingways and the landmarks of their life together. Also, I hate to veer away from solid sources, however, I did get snagged by Paula McLain’s bio spot on amazon, and her personal history is worth the link over. Very intriguing.

Paula McLain received her MFA in poetry from University of Michigan and has published two collections of poetry, a memoir and an earlier novel titled  A Ticket to Ride. The Paris Wife was released just a few weeks ago.

McLain will add her name to an impressive list of authors who have appeared as part of the National Writers Series of Traverse City and will offer a talk and signing at the City Opera House on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm. More from NLR on this later…

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

*Information taken from the official site of “The Paris Wife”

-Post by Megan Shaffer