Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Focus on THE SHORE, the new novel from Katie Runde - virtual event is June 2, 7 pm central

It’s May 31, which is officially the day before meteorological summer, though most of us don’t recognize the season until the Solstice, which this year is June 21. Before I watched the weather reports with some fervor, I didn’t know that. What I do know that it’s also after Memorial Day, another mark of summer. And that means that summer reading. And if you're so inclined, white shoes.

I was thinking about this as I gathered up reviews for last week’s event with Emma Straub, who visited for This Time Tomorrow. The novel, while not officially packaged as a summer novel, has the jauntiness associated with this unofficial genre, and this was referenced in several of the reviews.

While the resurgent romance genre (and two a lesser extent, horror – at least they are trying to break horror fiction now, as opposed to ten years ago) scream summer, there’s a more literal take on the genre – books about summer vacations and vacation homes. Christina Clancy’s The Second Home (mass market is released at the end of June) was definitely aiming for this, perhaps aiming for the bestselling status of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine some years earlier.

I was thinking of this as I read Jennifer Close’s The Smart One, which I picked up after reading and loving Marrying the Ketchups. Like Ketchups, this was another family story – playing off the smart one and the pretty one trope - which I know families really do. Having also read Girls in White Dresses, I have only to read The Hopefuls. So far, Ketchups is my favorite!

The Coffey family has a summer home and the novel is bookended by two family trips, but the trick of this genre is that, unlike the romances, a happy ending for the protagonists, or at least a romantic one, is far from assured. More likely, the family will come to peace with whatever their problems are. Acceptance is, in its way, a happy ending, after all.

I am not really sure where the summer home in The Smart One is, but since the family lives in Philadelphia, and at least one daughter is in New York, I guessed it was also somewhere in The Garden State. Come to think of it, they also spend a night gambling in Atlantic City.

Growing up, New Jersey was a fascinating place for me. So close, and yet so far. You could get there by public transportation, but calling New Jersey was long-distance. And Macys was Bamberger’s! I didn’t really figure out how easy it was to get there from New York until I was an adult. Before that, we were limited to long car trips to Morristown and Freehold to visit visit my parents’ friends and extended family. It seemed like it took hours!

One month I even thematically tried to only read books set in New Jersey. It included two from Tom Perrotta (Joe College and Election, before he decamped to Massachusetts), Frederick Reiken’s The Lost Legends of New Jersey (before he wrote Day for Night, one of my all-time favorite novels), a Janet Evanovich (did you know they took place in New Jersey?), and John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I also read Robert Sullivan’s A Whale Hunt, a title that should tip you off is not New Jersey-based, but it was the follow-up to The Meadowlands, which was. Another excellent book – sort of Bryson-y, as I remember.*

So this is New Jersey redux. I read it months ago in an early edition, but just last week was the release of The Shore, a debut novel by Katie Runde, which is another mother and two daughters novel set in a Shore town. But unlike the Coffey family, the Dunne’s aren’t seasonal visitors, but permanent residents, with the parents managing a business renting vacation homes. 

In a tiny way, it reminded me of Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors, in the way it peeled back a tourist town lived in by non-tourists. But the heart of the book is that the family is struggling because the father Brian has a brain tumor, leaving the daughters Liz and Evy alternatingly trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to carve out moments of normalcy.

I am always drawn to books about processing grief, and Runde’s novel, inspired a bit by family events, does that very well. I also love, and I’m not giving anything away here, that one of the daughters catfishes her mom in an online support group because she can’t seem to communicate with her in any other way. So many books about family dysfunction hinge on communication; I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to solve that problem! I highly recommend this book! And dare I say it? Great for book clubs.

From Judy Blundell in The New York Times Book Review: “This is Katie Runde’s first novel, and she writes with a fluid sensitivity to detail and mood, hitting tough questions hard and head-on. How do you find patience for a loved one who bears no resemblance to his former self? How can you long for relief when that relief means the person you love will die? For Margot, devotion has flattened into duty. She thinks of her daily existence as 'stuck in the orbit of this person she used to love, who now scared her, defeated her.' It’s that tucked-in phrase - 'used to love' - that sears.”

From Nancy Carty Lepri in The New York Journal of Books: “Katie Runde's debut novel touches on a disheartening topic, which she pens with grace and sympathy. This tale is not only about someone's passing with a horrendous disease, but it depicts how family members deal with the agony of it all. Does it pull them apart, or does it bring them together? While the daughters try to hide their anguish in their jobs, spending time on the beach, or with their friends, it's understood they are all hurting. All this brings to light the reality of our own demise or of a loved one and how we would handle it. All the very relatable family members are not without quirks, making this a tender read about dealing with the pain of loss.”

If you’re wondering why both CJ Hribal and Liam Callanan are doing our conversation with Katie Runde together on June 2, it’s because they are both big fans. Up until now we’ve generally just had one conversation partner for these kinds of things, but with the dual-conversation model of Readings from Oconomowaukee and several of our events with Alliance Française and CelticMKE, we thought we’d try it this way. Both Hribal and Callanan are great on their own – one can only imagine what they’ll be like as a team. If the event has already happened, we’ll have a recording link for you here. 

*Yes I’ve read some Philip Roth, but not that month! And yes, I’m well aware that I could spend my whole life reading novels and nonfiction set in New Jersey. Feel free to give me suggestions. And I should note that the companion novel to Election, Tracy Flick Can't Win, is published on June 7. It is also set in New Jersey.

Photo credit of Katie Runde by Rebecca Sanabria

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