Friday, August 16, 2013

Marriage and Booksellers, Marriage and Books, Susanna Daniel and Andrea Thalasinos, It's LIke Some Stream of Consciousness Word Vine

Yesterday I went to the wedding of former booksellers Dave (now a rep) and Valerie (now a school librarian). They had old-fashioned libary checkout cards to leave notes and a bookmark with a Mark Twain saying. But the most beautiful bookish thing was the arch of books that they were married under, on the War Memorial promenade, overlooking Lake Michigan. Before you get all "how dare you deface books?" on me, everyone who works with books knows that there are some books that work better as an archway over a wedding than they do for reading.

It was a lovely evening!


Marriage and relationships are on my mind, as I just finished reading Susanna Daniel's Sea Creatures, her second novel following Stiltsville. Daniel is going to be appearing with fellow second novelist (An Echo Through the Snow, Traveling Light) and fellow Madisonian Andrea Thalasinos next Tuesday, August 20, 7 pm, at Boswell.

The book returns to the Stiltsville of the Biscayne Bay, a community of houses built on...well, you know what. Georgia Quillan's returned to South Florida with her husband, with both their professional career tails between their legs (him denied tenure, her with a failed small college prep business). Her widowed father and her stepmom agree to let them park a houseboat on the Coral Gables canal, as her husband has accepted a new and nearby research job. Georgia takes a job doing errands for a loner artist in the nearby Stiltsville community.

Oh, and her husband has parasomnia (an extreme form of sleepwalking) and her son has selective mutism. Their past is a mess, with a lot of unresolved issues regarding not just her family disorders, but regarding her mom's death, and the future is pretty fragile. You can just sense Hurricane Andrew off in the distance, and that hurricane portends a worsening of the family bonds.

Daniel says she was partly inspired by the story from Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me, a memoir I read several years ago, in conjunction with his theater appearance where we sold books. Graham doesn't really sleep for long periods of time, and when he does, he has to strap himself in. But he wasn't always taking these precautions, and like Birbiglia, the family's escape from the Chicago area was preciptated by his crashing through a paned window on a balcony.

The sea creatures were played up a bit more on the advance edition, but the octopus was replaced on the finished jacket, as the Harper folk apparently didn't know how hot these icons are on gift items of late. Weren't they reading my blog posts? Of course the family are all sea creatures--not just Graham, Georgia, and their son Frankie live on a houseboat, but so does Charlie, the man that Georgia does errants for. I do think the new cover adjusts the focus of the potential audience for the book (as do all cover changes, right?) and the publisher will see whether not easily being merchandised with octopus journals was worth it in hopes of a more hospitable audience. I'm just kidding about this, of course.

Interestingly enough, as the event came together, we realized that Daniel and Thalasinos had written books with some themes that would make it appear that the pairing of our authors was kismet. Traveling Light is about a woman who comes to a crossroads ten years after leaving her husband, dog in tow, who is dealing with a hoarding disorder. Like parasomnia, hoarding is something that we didn't really understand until recently, but both can have devastating effects on relationships.

Also like Georgia Quillan, Paula Makaikis winds up escaping to a new locale (in this case, Minnesota) for a new start, and must confront some father issues as well. With these interesting similarities in mind, I asked Susanna Daniel and Andrea Thalasinos if they wouldn't mind structuring their event as more of a discussion. In addition to a short reading from each, they will be discussing the psychological components of the books as well as the strong sense of place that each tried to bring to their novels. And of course they'll be a question and answer period too.

Sea Creatures has been getting some very nice review around the country, including Laura Albritton in The Miami Herald proclaiming its fantasticness: "While Miami has inspired its satirical works of genius, chilling mystery novels and excellent accounts of Cuban exile, we’ve mostly run short on first-rate literature that takes the city seriously enough to capture its eccentricities without flinching. A writer just can’t roll into town for a few months and hope to understand the soul of this place. But Daniel, with Sea Creatures, gets it absolutely pitch perfect."

In the Roanoke Times, Lawrence Wayne Markert called Thalasinos' newest "an engaging story, a good summer read, about Paula Makaikis’ journey of personal discovery. Stuck for 10 years in a third unsuccessful marriage, this time to a hoarder who is an accomplished physicist at Columbia University, fate in the tradition of classical Greek literature sends Paula into new exterior and interior territory."

Yes, I could have matched Daniels with another Florida writer or Thalasinos with another dog-friendly novel. But pairing together two novels about women overcoming their husband's health disorders? You've got to admit that's unique. See you Tuesday.

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