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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reading With Robin at Word For Word at Bryant Park

Bryant Park, located right behind the New York Public Library, hosts a fabulous literary series each summer. Word For Word features authors in conversation about their works on Wednesdays during the lunch hour, and a few weeks ago I saw a really terrific program.

Robin Kall, who hosts a radio program Reading With Robin, hosted four authors talking about Family Drama in Fiction.
Kall, Dubow, Genova, Hughes, Thomas

Charles Dubow, who wrote Indiscretion, a book I really liked, is back with Girl in the Moonlight, a love story about "a first love that lasts a bit too long." It has compelling characters, and he said "the moral of the story resonates with me, hopefully with you too."

Lisa Genova, whose novel Still Alice, was recently made into a heartbreaking movie that won the Oscar for Julianne Moore, is back with Inside the O'Briens about a family dealing with the diagnosis of Huntington's Disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that is passed on genetically. She says it is about "how to find hope in a hopeless situation." I read it and it is amazing. (My review is here.)

Mary Beth Hughes' The Loved Ones is "essentially a story about a marriage." Set in 1969-70, a couple who lost their son two years ago are trying to find their way back to each other amidst problems with their 13 year-old daughter, and a brother who is trying to involve them in an embezzlement scheme.

Matthew Thomas' We Are Not Ourselves was on my list of The Most Compelling Books of 2014, and as Robin stated "is destined to be a classic." His story is about a Irish immigrant's daughter born in the 1940's who aspires to become middle class and achieve the American dream. He says it's about "how to deal with life with grace." (My review here.)

Kall asked some great questions of the group, including asking what kind of eavesdropping they did as part of their writing. Genova is from a large Italian family (she is the 26th grandchild!), a group she called "loud and boisterous", so there were plenty of opportunities as a child to listen.

Thomas declared that he was "an inveterate eavesdropper", claiming that as a writer he is always listening to the story being told off to the side.

Hughes's father is one of 12 children and she has 72 first cousins, so she always was surrounded by people talking. Now that she is a writer, her aunt is always telling her that she "has a lot of stories."

Dubow comes from a small family, and he was born with a stutter, so always listened much more than he talked.

Kall then asked what determined the time period setting of their novels, which was a good question I hadn't heard much before.  Thomas said he told a "story of time and place." It needed context, and called it a historical novel, not one "shot through with cell phones."

Hughes said that setting was very important to her story, calling it "Mad Men-esque" in 1969-70 when women's consciousness groups were beginning, and what that meant to the teenage daughter.

Genova's novel had to be set after 1993, when the gene that causes Huntington's was isolated. The fact that genetic testing is available is a key plot point in Inside the O'Briens.

Dubow needed to set his novel at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when AIDS shaming was prevalent, as that is important to his plot as well.

When Kall asked if any topics were off-limits, Genova burst out with "Hockey. I'm not writing about hockey", which elicited chuckles from the audience.

Thomas said "this sounds like a challenge", then said he would "stay away from something that was unnecessarily painful to others." Dubow said he would not write about something he knew nothing about, while Hughes would "find it difficult to write about dance."

Kall said that some of her favorite family drama authors are Jonathan Tropper and Phillip Roth and asked the authors to name some of the favorites. Hughes loves Penelope Fitzgerald, saying that Blue Flower and Gate of Angels were favorites.

Thomas believes that everything is family drama, and called out Alice McDermott (one of my favorites) as well as the Russians, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

Genova liked All The Light We Cannot See, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, and Dubow also cited the Russians, along with William Faulkner and James Salter's The Light Years.

Kall closed with a fantastic question- "What is the hope for your families in your book?" Hughes has great hope for her character Lily, " a beautiful spirit with great faith."  Thomas hopes that his character Eileen has grandchildren and learns to "feel the joy and forget the things that drove her and that she is more present in the moment."

Genova hops that her characters, who face chronic health issues can "be present to love, and the feel the gratitude of the joy of today.

Robin Kall was a wonderful moderator and this was one of the best Word For Word events I have attended. The rest of the summer schedule is here.

You can follow Robin Kall here.

1 comment:

  1. What a great program! Would love to attend if I'm ever in the city midweek this summer. We Are Not Ourselves was one of my favorites last year, too.