Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Club Presentation (9/24) Guest Speaker Eric Puchner on the Present Vs. The Near Past for Setting Model Home

Today’s the day our fall 2010 book club brochure comes back from Clark Graphics (print local). I was pretty happy with our spring brochure. We gave away about 300, and saw a nice pop on several titles.

The fall list is totally updated, with only two titles repeated from spring. I left off the titles everybody is talking about, such as Little Bee and Cutting for Stone, and only carried over the two sleepers we’ve sold so well, Yarn and The Tortoise and the Hare.

Our launch event is our book club presentation and featured speaker Eric Puchner on Friday, September 24th, at 7 PM. Eric Puchner’s Model Home will be out in mid-September and I thought it was a wonderful book to feature.

It’s about a Milwaukee family who heads to the California desert to strike it rich in real estate, only to find their fortunes much altered. It’s a classic novel of family dysfunction, told through multiple perspectives in the family. Father Warren is hiding the massive debt, Mom Camille suspects an affair, oldest son Dustin finds elusive rebellion in the form of his girlfiend’s younger sister, while his sister Lyle is surreptitiously dating their planned community’s Mexican security guard. And the youngest son Jonas? He’s rather obsessed with death in general, and the fate of a missing neighborhood girl in particular. The situation is nothing less than a tinder box.

One of the things I noticed about Puchner’s novel is that he set the book not in the present, but in the near past, specifically the 1980’s. Aside from the autobiographical elements of many novels, I have my theories on why this is happening more often, and I asked Puchner to elaborate on his setting.

"Apart from being a time I know well and feel personal affection for (yes, affection!), I thought it would be interesting to re-examine a time when people still to a large extent believed in the American dream - the California version, in particular - and its seductive power. And though I wrote the book before the full brunt of the financial meltdown, I wanted to show how there's been a confusion between the American dream and the mercenary spirit for a long time, and that things we think of as being unique to the 21st century - reckless real estate markets, debt-smitten consumerism, etc. - have been in place and brewing for a long time. I'm also interested in the rise of the exurbs and the gated community, both of which occurred in the eighties, and by what these things have done to our sense of community: I'm fascinated by what started to happen to the American lifestyle and the sacrifices we decided to make - commute two hours to work, live in a place inhospitable to human life - to be homeowners. The second half of the book is set in a deserted bedroom community in the Mojave desert, which seems perfectly emblematic to me of all this.

"From a purely selfish standpoint, I wanted to write about adolescents in a way that felt true to my own experience. I don't have a Facebook account (yet) and have never touched a Nintendo Wii, and so I wouldn't be able to write about a teenager in 2010 without doing tons of research. (There was already plenty of research to tackle for the book.) Teenagers these days spend half their lives online: it seems to me that this is a major ontological shift, one that's going to be a challenge for fiction writers in the decades to come. But I also wanted to show, in some important ways, that teenagers haven't changed at all, that all the cries of alarm about the end of adolescent innocence aren't overblown so much as moot. In my experience, at least, childhood innocence was well in to its death throes by the time the eighties rolled around."

Thanks, Eric. We’re looking to hearing more about Model Home on September 24th!

To me, technology is playing havoc with classic fiction writing, and that’s not just through ebook readers. In addition to many writers setting what I’d call contemporary novels in the past, I think the technological challenges lead to more folks looking at speculative writing, where they can adapt reality to suit the needs of their storytelling. Perhaps their alternative world has more technology. Often, especially with the explosion of dystopian tales, they have less. I wonder what 20-something writers are thinking about this. Time for me to check out some writers’ blogs.

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