Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hannah Pittard is Fated For Success? To be Argued Out at Various Bars? To Come to Boswell? (The Last One is a Sure Thing, on 3/2)

Though I only have a handful of high school friends that I keep in touch with (at this point, maybe 3, though it grew a bit at the beginning of social networking), I remember going to one of our reunions with my friend Rachel, who was a little bit more connected to the other alums (partly because she still lived in New York, partly because she was on the reunion committee) and thinking, "Gee, what have I missed by disconnecting from this?"

Maybe what I needed was to have one of my friends go missing. At least that's the thought that popped into my head while reading Hannah Pittard's The Fates will Find their Way, the accomplished first novel from Hannah Pittard, which is being published in February. It's about one group of boys, whose lives are shook and bended by the Halloween disappearance of one Nora Lindell, leaving behind her younger sister Sissy.

Of course the lack of connection could partly be because I came from a large high school in a large neighborhood in a large borough of a large city (Queens), whereas Pittard's story is in a more discrete neighborhood of a suburb, and most of the kids seem to be connected by a smaller school (seemingly Catholic, there are uniforms, though it is implied that some of the kids are Jewish), though one (seemingly poorer) kid goes to public school.

There are a lot of "seeminglies" here as that's the kind of book this is. It's told first person plural and meanders across time, moving along slowly but with lots of darting back and forth, almost like it was a group of men telling the story at a bar, after one such class reunion. But slowly you realize the group is smaller than first thought, as each boy proves to get pulled out of the crowd by divorce, an affair, a dalliance with another's daughter.

But the biggest "seemingly" seems to be what happened to Nora? Is she living out her life, as imagined by the boys? Has she died any one of a half dozen deaths? Has she been spotted in various photos, or on TV? Or could it not have gone further than that night? Pittard too imagines all options, and I would think readers would come to different conclusions.

I saw the word "elegiac" already used about the book, and that sort of captures the mood. Maybe not a reunion, maybe a wake (or shiva).

One of the things about hosting first-time novelists is that you really need some reads on the book. Of course, just because you read it doesn't mean you're going to love it. Most of the time we get an author without the budget for a tour large enough to encompass Milwaukee, there's some connection to Southeast Wisconsin.

But with our push to get more Chicago-area authors to make the trek, easy and inexpensive as it is, you can't count on hometown connections. So we either need to find a hook, a target audience, or if we luck out, let our customers know that we've got a special event.

There's no question that Hannah Pittard has the goods. Her fiction has already appeared in McSweeney's, the Oxford American, StoryQuarterly, and the Mississippi Reivew. She was awarded the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire award (named in honor of the deceased author who left us before her buzz could flower into the major prizes and such) and made a Best American Short Stories shortlist.

And yes, she delivers. The Fates Will Find Their Way is mesmerizingly beautiful, one of those stories that stays with you for a long time.

Here's the Anne Beattie quote:
"Hannah Pittard's novel is about what's gone missing--not only literally but also metaphorically. The first-person plural certainly nods to Jeffrey Eugenides, but it seems to me the voice is rooted in the Stage Manager of Thornton Wilder's Our Town as well. Pittard gives the secret wink to the reader, becdause a story is only a story, but at the same time more than a story, aned that's why we love to invent and why we love to listen and to be taken in. At our peril."

Yes, it does seem an homage to The Virgin Suicides, doesn't it? Totally different, but playing off of it a bit. Of course it will turn out that Pittard never read Eugenides. No, it turns out she did. Here's an early interview with her on the blog Three Guys One Book.

I'm excited that Pittard is currently teaching at DePaul, which made her within convenient event distance to Boswell. DePaul is becoming our go-to school for events of late. After a very nice event with Rebecca Johns for her novel, The Countess, last fall, we hosted just last night Christine Sneed, author of the Grace Paley award for short fiction winner, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry.

Just a word about our event last night with Sneed and Jaimy Gordon, author of the National-Book-Award-winning Lord of Misrule. There is something special about two authors reading together who share some chemistry. We had two attendees last night who said this event was the best one they'd ever been to, and one of our regulars told me the night was amazing. Here's a photo of Gordon and Sneed at our fun pre-event dinner at Cafe Hollander. If you're reading this today (1/18), Christine Sneed and Jaimy Gordon are reading tonight at DePaul. Info on the Chicago Reader website.

To make sure I didn't forget how I felt about Pittard's novel, I wrote this post a bit early, hoping that I would have another bookseller recommendation by the time I was ready to post (scheduled for the first day of Winter Institute, the coveted Day-for-Night slot. Sure enough, Stacie also read and enjoyed the book, and even got to have dinner with Pittard at a pre-pub dinner. If we play our cards well, she might even write about it).

Here are Stacie's thoughts:
"Hannah Pittard's debut novel is one long conjecture, and that's not a bad thing. Her clean, crisp prose takes a plain subject and turns it inward, sweeping the reader along with the tide. We are a group of teenage boys pondering the disappearance of one of our female classmates - we take the rumors and construct fantasies of what could have happened to her. The unsolved mystery will haunt us our entire lives, no matter the endings we construct for her: one of death, one of abandonment, or one of adventure. Our lives move forward in time, leaving us only our memories, filtered through an intimate connection; something that feels like a secret keeps us bound to each other into our futures, which come too fast. You, too, will want to know the truth and you will be so glad you looked for it with us."

Our event is Wednesday, March 2nd, at 7 PM. This is the kind of author reading where you someday might be kicking yourself for not attending.

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