Author Archive

Shirley Jackson, Madeleine L’Engle, and Motherhood

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I read much of Shirley Jackson’s memoir of raising four children, Life Among the Savages (1952), on a weekend when I was caring for three children. For a brief stretch—maybe five pages—we achieved a fragile equilibrium and they were all attached to me as I read.

Mistresses, Written by Women

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The affair in Lorrie Moore’s story, “How to Be an Other Woman,” starts with a meet cute on a bus: “A minute goes by and he asks what you’re reading. It is Madame Bovary in a Doris Day biography jacket.” Moore’s story is more playful than Flaubert’s, but she

Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth Isn’t Just for Suburban Moms’ Book Clubs

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I am so into Ann Patchett right now. Is it hip to be into Ann Patchett? Is it edgy? No. It’s book clubby. It’s suburban mommy. My book club of suburban moms met last night and discussed Commonwealth. When we chose it, we laughed a little about what an

The Ambiguous Epiphany

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When I was a child growing up Catholic, the Feast of the Epiphany struck me as an afterthought. December was all about the thrilling run-up of Advent, characterized by candle lighting and singing at mass and by lists for Santa and chocolate-filled calendars at home. Finally there was the

Christmas with Alice Munro

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Like many of Alice Munro’s stories, her Christmas stories are occupied with work and explore the subtleties of how work defines identity. Of the three stories I’ll discuss, “The Turkey Season” (1980) is the most explicitly about Christmas, ending with a snowy tableau on Christmas Eve.

The Female Gaze and the Same Old Songs

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I recently went with my husband to a concert. The artist we saw writes gut-wrenching songs, and he and his band put on a great show. But I got restless about half way through. “It’s just so masculine,” I said to my husband, and not long after that the

Fracking, Glove Making, and Elevator Inspection: Industry in Novels

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I delighted in Alexandra Petri’s column, “An Easy Guide to Writing the Great American Novel.” A writer must be able to laugh, kindly, at herself, and perhaps less kindly at others, especially when those others are extremely successful.

Serial, Timelines, and Fiction

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In "Route Talk," an episode from the first season of Serial, Sarah Koenig and her producer attempt to recreate the state’s timeline of the murder of Hae Min Lee. As I listened, I was struck by how similar their exercise was to one creative writers perform.

My Uncle’s Books

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A year and a half ago, my uncle Chuck died unexpectedly. My family wanted me to have his books because I was a reader like he had been, and I was also a writer. And I wanted the books, especially his Library of America books.

Time and Opening Chapters: Gaining Trust

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Lately I’ve been thinking about time in novels. How to manipulate it, whether it should be linear or nonlinear, and what that choice means for a story. I began to examine it more closely after a recent weekend novel workshop I took with Lauren Grodstein.