The New Men — Book Review

New-Men-ECov-199x300“For us, the new man, he is one of two things,” Torassian said eagerly. “First, he is the new worker, a man we instruct and investigate until his probation is complete. But also he is an idea. In the foundry, they make parts. On the line, they make autos. But in Sociological, we make men.”

Anthony Grams (born Antonio Gramazio) comes to America with his family at the start of the 20th century in search of a better life. Bright and ambitious, Tony lands a job at Ford Motor Company in the Sociological Department, responsible for investigating the personal lives of Ford workers and determining if they are worthy of Ford profit-sharing.

It’s a familiar story, of course; many novels and nonfiction accounts have been written about the immigrant experience. Jon Enfield’s novel, The New Men, takes that experience and blends it with the story of the burgeoning auto industry.

The New Men is an ambitious novel — perhaps too ambitious. There are an overwhelming number  of characters, some based on actual historical figures (Henry Ford, Samuel Marquis, James Couzens, and many more), some inspired by and loosely based by historical figures, and some completely fictional. Along with its large cast of characters, The New Men attempts to cover the major issues of the early 20th century — race relations, anti-Semitism, industrialization, labor unions, World War I, socialism, immigration . . .

In his author’s note, Enfield (who has a Ph.D. in American literature), describes how he came to write the novel, which he first conceived as an academic article:

How does becoming the right kind of worker for an assembly line both require and demand that someone become a new kind of person altogether? What was Ford Motor Company teaching its workers?  . . . What did they learn from streets transformed first by trolley cars, then by automobiles? What did all of that mean while European streets and meadows alike were becoming assembly lines of death, dismemberment, and madness?

I pored over blueprints of the various Ford plans, descriptions of its increasingly international business empire, over schematics of the line, Model T drivers’ manuals and advertising, over the surviving records of Sociological/Educational . . . And I eventually realized it was too big for an article. That, in fact, it was too big and powerful and complex for me to do justice to as anything but a novel.

The story of the “New Men” of the 20th century is indeed “big and powerful and complex”. By telling the story through the eyes of Tony Grams, Enfield attempts to take many threads and tie them together in a single narrative. I’m not entirely sure how successful he is. His subject is fascinating, and obviously very thoroughly researched. Much of his material comes from original documents in the Ford archives. Enfield’s passion for his topic comes through in his writing. The reader can tell that he is bursting with information and ideas he wants to include in the story.

I really appreciate all the period details in the novel, especially the speech patterns and slang. Enfield mentions in his author’s note that he “wanted to get the historical facts and cultural perspectives right but also to capture how different people in Detroit spoke and wrote in the 1910s”. (I’ve frequently been annoyed when characters in historical fiction speak in what I consider 21st century speech patterns.) Enfield says, ” The editors and I promise you that if a particular character writes or says something a certain way, we went to great lengths to verify that a similar, actual person in that time and place might well have written or spelled it that way”.

That being said, I think I would have enjoyed reading about Henry Ford’s “New Men” more if the focus of the novel had been narrower. There was simply too much going on for me to become emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Tony. The book certainly piqued my curiosity about the early days of the Ford Motor Company; I ended up reading the book with my laptop by my side, so I could google things as I read.

I wonder what would have happened if Enfield had decided to write narrative nonfiction about a very specific aspect of immigrant life in Detroit –The Ford Sociological Department, the Girls’ Protective League, even the kosher meat riots. But, as he says, historical fiction has an advantage, since “sometimes history simply refuses to provide a decent love interest or a wryly amusing supporting character”.

If you’re interested in reading The New Men, please know that it’s published by a small publisher, Wayzgoose Press, and is available as an e-book (through Kobo, etc.) and that independent bookstores will order it as a print on demand title.

To read more reviews of The New Men, please visit TLC Book Tours.





Road Trip “Reading” — The Joys of Audiobooks

What we found at the end of our drive!
What we found at the end of our drive!

People are always worried about what’s happening next. They often find it difficult to stand still, to occupy the now without worrying about the future. People are generally not satisfied with what they have; they are very concerned with what they are going to have.
Enzo, the canine narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I’ve been doing a lot of driving this summer, much of it on my own, and I’ve rediscovered the joys of audiobooks. When I take my daily (well, almost daily) walks at home, I listen to music or podcasts. But this summer I drove from Chicago to New Hampshire, round trip, and I needed to alleviate the monotony with full-length books.

If you’ve ever listened to audiobooks, you know the narrator makes all the difference. Once, I was browsing through the bargain bin at a college bookstore and found The Portrait of a Lady on CD for only $2.99. I thought it would be fun to “reread” classic literature on my upcoming 18-hour drive. After an hour or so of the narrator’s sleep-inducing drone, I dropped The Portrait of a Lady in a trash can at an Indiana rest stop. Sorry, Henry James.

David Sedaris reads his own books (not possible for Henry James, I know), and they are absolutely delightful. Whenever I read something by Sedaris, I can hear his distinctive voice in my head. His books are collections of short comic pieces, best suited for short trips.  (I have the audio version of Me Talk Pretty One Day stashed in my glove compartment, along with NPR’s Driveway Moments, just in case I’m stuck in traffic and there’s nothing on the radio.)

I chose four audiobooks for my road trip earlier this month, and amazingly, they were all winners. I know that because I never once got drowsy while listening, and because I was tempted to buy the print versions.  (In the case of The Art of Racing in the Rain, I succumbed.) I didn’t throw any of them in a trash can, which is good because two of them came from the public library.

9780061950728Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline, is a book club favorite that’s been on the bestseller list for months. So of course I didn’t want to read it. I read a nonfiction book, Orphan Trains: Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, by Stephen O’Connor, so I thought I’d read enough on that topic. I was wrong, of course.  Orphan Train is a dual narrative, with one story taking place in the Midwest during the Depression and the other taking place in present-day Maine. Niamh is an Irish immigrant who was orphaned and sent west on a train to be “adopted”; Molly is a Penobscot Indian who has spent her childhood in foster care. Eventually, their lives intersect.

My 10-year-old niece, Lily, was with me for the drive to New Hampshire, and she listened to part of Orphan Train, with great interest. I had to fill her in on some background because she was busy reading her own book in the back seat when I started listening. (Lily is a child after my own heart; she can read in the car without getting sick!) Orphan Train, with its focus on young girls coming of age in difficult circumstances, is a terrific book to share with younger readers. The audiobook reader was wonderful, especially with Niamh’s Irish brogue.

9780061537967The Art of Racing in the Rain is narrated by a dog, whose owner is a racecar driver. I was very dubious about the idea of a dog as storyteller, and I’ve never had the slightest interest in auto racing. I will try never to be so narrow-minded again, because I loved this book — so much that I raced out and bought a copy. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a truly lovely book about the love between friends, parents and children, husbands and wives — and dogs and their owners. It’s a meditation on how to live an honorable and courageous life. I do have to warn you that it’s a little dangerous to listen to while driving, because you will undoubtedly cry. Garth Stein has a new book coming out in September, A Sudden Light, and I can’t wait to read it. It’s about a 14-year-old boy who discovers family secrets while trying to save his parents’ marriage.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlen, has been on my to-read list for months. I loved Quindlen’s most recent essay collection, Lots of Candles, www.randomhousePlenty of Cake, but wasn’t crazy about her last couple of novels. So I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Still Life with Bread Crumbs as much as I did. It’s about Anna Winter, a 60-year-old photographer whose career is in decline. To save money and revitalize herself, she decides to rent out her beloved New York apartment and move to the country for the year. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough narrative force in this novel to make it a good audiobook, but Quindlen is so skilled at portraying characters that I was completely absorbed. I feel almost as if I’d recognize Anna if I bumped into her on the street. I knew from the beginning, when she and a local roofer (who becomes a key character in the book) discuss possible strategies for removing the raccoon that’s trapped in her attic, that I would be “reading” about interesting, tangible characters.

41EnRJM+hjLCode Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is a YA novel, and I’m not sure why. Queenie, or “Verity,” is a young, female British intelligence officer who’s been captured by the Gestapo when her plane crashed in occupied France. Her best friend, Maddie, is the pilot who flew the plane. The first section of the book is a confession that Verity has written to her captors, followed by Maddie’s version of the story. It’s important to keep in mind that Verity is a spy, so she’s by definition an unreliable narrator. It’s a difficult book to describe without giving away key plot points. What I enjoyed most were the voices of the two narrators. Of all the audiobooks I listened to on my trip, this stood out for the high-quality narration. Here’s a review from Audiofile magazine:

To reveal almost anything about the way events in Code Name Verity unfold would spoil the book’s many twists and turns and revelations . . . The audiobook is its own revelation—narrators Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell bring Queenie and Maddie to vibrant life, and listeners will fall in love with them from the start. Gaskell and especially Christie perform (and even sing in) a variety of English and Scottish accents as well as flawless French and German. More than that, they so fully inhabit the characters that the most harrowing moments, so intimate and immediate on audio, are nearly unbearable. It’s an extraordinary book, made even more extraordinary by their truly spellbinding narration.

I’m trying to decide what my next audiobook will be. Even though I don’t have any more road trips planned, I have plenty of 45-90 minute drives on the horizon. Suggestions are welcome!













No Longer and Not Yet — Book Review

No Longer and Not YetWhat are those currents that run between us, filling our rooms, hallways, streets, connecting us the one to the other?
Joanna Clapps Herman, No Longer and Not Yet

When I was a teenager, my mother took me on my first trip to New York City. We did all the usual touristy things — shopped on Fifth Avenue, walked through Central Park, and went to the top of the Empire State Building. What made the biggest impression on me, though, was visiting relatives who lived in an apartment building on the Upper East Side. We walked around their neighborhood together, and everywhere we went someone greeted Mary and John by name. They stopped to chat with friends, neighbors, shopkeepers, and doormen. “You see?” I remember Mary saying. “It’s no different from living in a small town.”

Joanna Clapps Herman’s lovely collection of linked short stories, No Longer and Not Yet, drives my cousin Mary’s point home again and again. The characters in the stories live within a few blocks of each other on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They are connected to each other the same way people in any community are connected to each other. They fall in love, raise children, make friends, mourn the loss of family members, struggle with career decisions.

The hand-drawn map in the beginning of the book shows the important landmarks in the characters’ lives — the schools, parks, and shops they visit almost every day. Beyond the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean are “other places”. The opening story in the collection, “Roman Bath”,  takes place in Italy, where Max and Tess are beginning their marriage. The reader doesn’t yet know anything about the couple, except that they have recently been married and they are traveling in Italy. The story succeeds on its own, but also functions as an introduction to two key characters in No Longer and Not Yet.  In subsequent stories, Max and Tess negotiate marriage, parenthood, and the ups and downs of life. Despite their differences in temperament, they share a deep and abiding bond:

Max, the husband, opened. Tess, the wife, closed. Max spilled, dropped, stirred. Tess, wiped, picked up, quieted. He flung, scattered, cast off. She caught, held, fastened. He set sail; she harbored Max got up early, opened cupboards, drawers, left them where they landed . . . He got their son, Paul, up and out of the house in the morning, brought Tess a cup of coffee in bed. He started the day going . . . She stayed up late, turned off all the lights, made sure Paul was in the vicinity of his bed, pulled the blankets up around Max’s shoulders. She brought the day home.

Some of the stories in the collection are very short — vignettes, really. Others are much longer and stand alone as short stories, with individual plots. I particularly enjoyed “Two Latins”, about a young mother’s conflict with her daughter’s preschool teacher, and “Passing History”, about a young man’s friendship with an elderly woman in his building. (The building happens to be the former residence of Hannah Arendt.)

I’m a fan of short stories (in fact, I wrote a blog post about my love of short stories: 5 Reasons to Read Short Stories), but I think even readers who claim they don’t like short stories would like No Longer and Not Yet. Although there isn’t an overarching narrative, the characters develop throughout the linked stories. In that way, the book reminded me of Olive Kitteridge and A Visit From the Goon Squad. I also thought the book was reminiscent of Cheryl Mendelson’s wonderful trilogy about the Upper West Side — Morningside Heights, Anything for Jane, and Love, Work, Children.

Joanna Clapps Herman, a resident of New York City, is a creative writing professor at the MFA Graduate Program at Manhattanville College and at the Center for Worker Education, a division of City College of New York, CUNY.  When asked what she’d like readers to take away from their experience of reading No Longer and Not Yet, she says:

I’d love for people to be interested in what my characters are facing. I’d like them to feel as if they are walking around in a place that interests them. I’d like them to feel moved by my language when I’m turning it on and trying to make something beautiful or emotional.

Herman’s “Ideal reader” is “anyone who loves to read about ordinary people, especially people who like to read about raising children”.

I reviewed No Longer and Not Yet for TLC Book Tours. Please check out the other stops on the tour!






Summertime, and the Reading Is Excellent

I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d share a post from one of my favorite blogs, Musing: A Laid-Back Lit Journal. Musing is the brainchild of author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett and her staff at Parnassus Books in Nashville. I’m always happy when I see a new post from Musings in my in-box!



Summer is a great season to be a bibliophile, because it’s considered a totally normal activity to sit in a beach/pool/lawn/whatever chair and plow through books one after the other. (Speaking of which, check out Zadie Smith’s fantastic What It Means to Be Addicted to Reading: “The beach is one of the few places pathological readers can pass undetected among their civilian cousins.”) In addition to Ann’s current favorites, here’s what our staff is reading and loving right now.

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WWW Wednesday — Mother/Daughter Version

It’s WWW Wednesday, where I answer three questions:

What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you plan to read next?

IMG_0742I’m on vacation in New Hampshire, at my mother’s summer house on Lake Sunapee. We had family members coming and going for the past few days, but now it’s quiet . . . so quiet that a pair of loons swam right past our dock late yesterday afternoon.

Here’s what we are currently reading:

I’m reading The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day. It’s a debut mystery novel by a Chicago writer, set at a university very much like Northwestern. Sociology professor Amelia Emmet thought violence was a research topic, not a personal issue — until she was shot by a student.

My mother is reading Heather Gudenkauf’s page-turner, Little Mercies, the story of a veteran social worker and devoted mother who makes a horrible mistake. Gudenkauf says she’s not sure how to categorize her books: “Are they literary mysteries, thrillers, or emotional family dramas? My hope is that they are all of these!”

coverThe last book I finished was The Arsonist, by Sue Miller — one of my favorite authors. It turned out to be quite appropriate, since it’s set in a small New Hampshire town. The novel centers on Frankie, a burned-out relief worker who’s returned home from Africa to spend time with her aging parents while she figures out what to do with the rest of her life. Almost as soon as Frankie arrives, an arsonist begins destroying the homes of summer residents. The most compelling part of the book for me was the portrayal of Frankie’s mother trying to cope with her husband, a retired professor slipping into dementia.

My mother has outread me on this vacation (I don’t think “outread” is a real word, but I’m going to pretend that it is.) She’s just read — and recommends —  I Can’t Complain, a book of essays by Elinor Lipman, Restless, a terrific espionage novel by William Boyd, and We Are Water, Wally Lamb’s latest. Maybe I’ll have to try We Are Water again — when I first tried reading it, I couldn’t get into it.

0814-9781460330197-bigwWhat’s next? I thought I had brought Chris Bohjalian’s new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, in my bag, because my mother wanted to read it — but it’s gone AWOL, so we may have to make a trip to the local bookstore to pick up a copy. I think the next book in her pile is an ARC of Mary Kubica’s debut suspense novel The Good Girl. (I was lucky enough to meet Mary at a publisher dinner earlier this year. The book has been getting a lot of buzz, including being chosen as an Indie Next Pick for August. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Mary at an author event in Lake Forest on August 20.)

I’m planning on reading Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore ( a family story set in a summer retreat in Vermont, recommended by my most trusted source, Sue Boucher) and No Longer and Not Yet, by Joanna Clapps Hermann (a collection of stories that take place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

We’d love to hear what you’ve just read, what you’re reading now, and what you’re planning to read next!



Return to the Hump Day blog hop on Julie Valerie’s book blog by clicking here




Endangered — Book Review

The cover of Endangered doesn’t do it justice. It makes the book look like a middle-grade or YA novel, which it is not –although it would make great reading for high school students. Endangered is a legal thriller that tells the “ripped from the headlines” story of Malik Williams, a 15-year-old African-American boy in Philadelphia who is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit.

Malik’s story is told through the perspective of his mother, Janae. When a human rights Endangeredorganization, headed by skilled attorney Roger Whitford, offers to take on Malik’s case at no charge, Janae is dubious. Is her son really part of an “endangered species”, as Roger claims?

“Wait! Endangered? I’m not following you. How will Malik get out of jail? How is this going to help my son? I haven’t even seen him . . . The dan-ger, the real danger, is in him being in jail, which is not where he belongs.”

The author, Jean Love Cush, is a journalist and an attorney. A native of Philadelphia, she started her career at the District Attorney’s office there. Then she joined Legal Aid as a family law attorney, helping battered women escape domestic violence. She also hosted a weekly current affairs radio show, “A View From the Summit”, which led her to investigate gun violence in the inner city and the impact on black boys:

What I learned was devastating. It inspired me to write a story exploring violence, race and the criminal justice system from the perspective of an African-American mother. This turned into my novel Endangered . . .

I read Endangered in just a couple of sittings, anxious to know if Malik would be exonerated and if the real murderer would be found. The plot is well-constructed, with plenty of tension and some twists and turns. The legal complexities of the case fascinated me — particularly the issue of juvenile offenders being tried as adults. Clearly, Jean Love Cush knows Philadelphia and she knows Pennsylvania law. I get frustrated with legal mysteries (like Scott Turow’s) that take place in fictional locations. Setting the story in a real place gives the book an extra dose of reality. William Landay successfully did this in Defending Jacob, one of my favorite recent legal thrillers, and Cush brings Philadelphia and its court system to life in the same way.

As a mother, I identified with Janae — her deep love for her son, as well as her pain and frustration. Any mother, when faced with a child in trouble, would second-guess her own culpability, as Janae does:

I keep replaying the past fifteen years in my head, about how I’ve been raising Malik. I’ve been living my life in a dark haze, drifting aimlessly with Malik in tow. Before his arrest, I was so preoccupied with trying to provide for his basic needs that I neglected the most important things . . .I just want him to be a strong man, a good man.

Cush’s portrayal of Roger Whitford is particularly strong. He is blunt, brilliant, and a bit mysterious. What are his motivations for running CPHR (Center for the Protection of Human Rights) and taking Malik’s case? Cush gradually reveals Whitford’s character and background, eventually drawing a portrait of a complex man.

Calvin Moore, the African-American attorney who made it out of the inner city to join a white-shoe Philadelphia law firm, was less interesting to me. He seems like more of a stock character — the success story who ignores the plight of his own community. When  first asked to take the case, he says, “‘I get it that black boys are in trouble. I lived it. I still live it. But I would like to believe that a lot of the trouble, at least now, is self-inflicted'”.  Later, Calvin changes his opinion . . . which may or may to have something to do with his feelings for Janae.

The voice that is missing from Endangered is Malik’s. Obviously, Cush’s intention was to tell Malik’s story from the point of view of the adults surrounding him — but I would have liked to have heard about Malik’s ordeal from his perspective. Perhaps Cush structured the novel in this way because Malik is meant to stand for all black boys who are treated unfairly by the legal system? But I wanted to know more about Malik as an individual.

The novel clearly was meant to be more than a page-turner. It was intended to make a point — that our justice system is unfair to black youth– and it successfully makes that point. But is that what fiction should do? Endangered seems a little heavy-handed and polemical to me. It is definitely an “issue” novel as much as it is a legal thriller. There are, of course, many well-regarded novels that focus on social problems — The Jungle, Sister Carrie, The Grapes of Wrath,Native Son, to name just a few — and scholars have always argued about the relationship of literature to social issues.

I’ve read several outstanding nonfiction books about African-American single mothers trying to raise sons in difficult environments. I  highly recommend A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. They are filled with real-life Janaes and Maliks.

I reviewed Endangered for TLC Book Tours. Please check out the other stops on the tour!

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The Tilted World — Book Review

9780062069184When Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin visited our store last fall as part of their tour for The Tilted World, I mentioned in my introduction that they were the first husband-wife writing team we’d ever hosted. In fact, they were the first writing team we had ever hosted. Sure, we’ve organized events for pairs of authors and illustrators. But two people who collaborated on a novel? That was a first.

Not many novels have been written by co-authors, and very few by co-authors who are married to each other. The only work of fiction I could think of that was written by a married couple is The Crown of Columbus by Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich. A little Internet research showed me that I am hopelessly out of touch and that there are a number of couples writing fiction together. Many of them combine their names and write under a shared pseudonym: Nicci Gerrard and Sean French write crime fiction under the name “Nicci French”; Alexandra Coelho and Alexander Ahndoril write novels together as “Lars Kepler”; and Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio are “Michael Gregorio” in the literary world.

Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote a series of ten police procedurals about detective Martin Beck in the 1960s and 1970s and are considered the forerunners to Stieg Larsson, are common-law spouses. Maybe that’s why they didn’t come up with a joint pen name?

These collaborative novels all have one thing in common: they are plot-driven and suspenseful. The Tilted World is no exception. The book grabbed me from the first page, when the protagonist, bootlegger Dixie Clay Holliver, finds what she believes to be a baby’s coffin in the swollen creek near her home in rural Mississippi. The stream was called “Gawiwatchee” (“Place Where the World Tilts”) by the Indians — “or so Jesse’d said”. Jesse, Dixie Clay’s husband, is not known for his honesty.

Dixie Clay is a bit of a stock Southern female character — she’s plucky and determined, doing what needs to be done in the face of hardship. Remember Scarlett O’Hara? She saves her husband from two  federal revenue agents who are investigating the moonshine operation:

Now she aimed the Winchester . . . She remembered the years of hunting alongside her father, remembered shooting a panther out of a pin oak. She visualized that shot, and visualized this one. She squeezed the trigger. The pie plate rang and danced  on its cord and the birdseed exploded, then bounced on the floor and rolled still. She used the diversion to scuttle behind the sassafras, the last shelter before the downhill slide to the front gallery forty feet away.

I found myself more interested in Dixie Clay’s nemesis and eventual love interest, Prohibition agent Teddy Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s history as an orphan and World War I soldier brings texture to his character. Jesse, and his girlfriend, Jeannette, are villains through and through. Jesse has one blue eye and one green eye, hinting that he has two sides to his personality: one charming and smooth-talking, the other ugly and violent.

Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin reading, October 2013
Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin reading, October 2013

The Tilted World takes place in 1927, during Prohibition and the Great Flood that decimated the South. In the authors’ note at the beginning of the book, Fennelly and Franklin comment that the flood, “largely forgotten today . . .  is considered by many to be the worst natural disaster our country has endured.” Certain disasters — the sinking of the Titanic, the Chicago fire, the San Francisco earthquake — have taken hold of the popular imagination, while others — the Peshtigo fire, the sinking of the Eastland in Lake Michigan, the Galveston hurricane — have become footnotes to history. It’s interesting to contemplate why that is. In the book’s acknowledgments, Fennelly and Franklin cite John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America “as an amazing work of research and journalism, to which our novel is indebted”. I’m adding it to my reading list.

Revenue agents, bootleggers, murderers, and abandoned babies, all set against the background of a flood of Biblical proportions, create a dramatic page-turner filled with tension. It’s also a literary novel, filled with enough religious imagery and symbolism to satisfy this aging English major.  The Tilted World, like all the best historical fiction, leaves the reader with the gratifying feeling of having learned something new about a particular time and place. The novel also places the flood in context, showing how this massive disaster would shape American politics and race relations in the 20th century.

Fennelly and Franklin are both enormously talented writers.They met as MFA students at the University of Arkansas, and, says Franklin, “We both teach in the Ole Miss MFA program, which Beth Ann also directs. In other words, she’s my boss.” Franklin has written several other novels and a collection of short stories, all set in his native Deep South; Fennelly, a Northerner, is the author of three poetry collections and a nonfiction book, Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother.  Franklin’s evocation of the Southern atmosphere and Fennelly’s poetic depiction of maternal love combine beautifully in The Tilted World.

The authors with Beth Ann Fennelly's proud mother!
The authors with Beth Ann Fennelly’s proud mother!

How did Fennelly and Franklin write the book? Did they write alternating chapters, or did they actually sit and write together? When we hosted our reading with the two authors, that was the first question that was asked in the Q and A session. In an essay that’s reprinted in the paperback version of The Tilted World, Fennelly addresses this question at length. The short answer is: they did both. They started out with Tom writing from the point of view of Ted Ingersoll and Beth Ann writing from the point of view of Dixie Clay. But things changed:

One day, Tommy out of town, I realized I couldn’t push further with Dixie Clay until I knew what Ingersoll was up to. I wrote an Ingersoll scene, and it was liberating to give myself permission to get to know this character, too. Thereafter, we started mucking things about in each other’s pages, coloring outside the lines . . . And then we took our collaborating further, because we began crafting scenes together, kneecap to kneecap in my tiny office, talking and writing together, stringing words into sentences. That’s when the novel really started cooking– and finally became fun to write — when we adopted the method we called “dueling laptops”, writing side by side on the same passages at the same time, then reading aloud and discussing and jointly moving forward.

Will Fennelly and Franklin collaborate on a novel again — perhaps a sequel? I want to know more about Dixie Clay’s father. And maybe this time Fennelly’s name will come first, since she is her husband’s boss . . .

To read more reviews of The Tilted World, check out the stops on TLC Book Tours.

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