Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kathleen Hill

Kathleen Hill teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her novel Still Waters in Niger was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was short-listed for the Prix Femina √Čtranger. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.

Her new novel, Who Occupies This House, was published by TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, in October 2010.

Recently I asked Hill what she was reading.  Her reply:
I stumbled on a review of Anne Enright’s novel, The Gathering, when I was finishing my own novel. I don’t remember a word of the review but was riveted by the subject matter: it was a story of a sister and a brother, or rather the sister’s attempt at a story after the brother, an alcoholic, has died of drowning. A suicide. I had never read a word written by Anne Enright although I knew she was Irish. I’d begun to follow Irish writers. My own book concerned several generations of an Irish –American family who live in the same house for almost a century.

On the first page I read: “ My brother Liam loved birds and, like all boys, he loved the bones of dead animals. I have no sons myself, so when I pass any small skull or skeleton I hesitate and think of him, how he admired their intricacies. A magpie’s ancient arms coming through the mess of feathers; stubby and light and clear. That is the word we use about bones: Clean.”

Immediately I thought of my own brother, and throughout the length of the book my mind was never far from him. I remember his carrying a wishbone around in his pocket when he was eleven or twelve. I remember the bony skull of a snake lying in the palm of his hand. I remember his dirty nails. Why did he love these bones? The mystery of a sister’s love for a brother close to her in age endlessly intrigues me. So far as I know – and I wish someone would tell me about stories I’m not aware of – it is seldom written about. Wuthering Heights is an example. But then, Heathcliff and Cathy are not blood relatives. I don’t think. In The Gathering Veronica Heggerty, the narrator, is swept into the maelstrom of her brother’s death and is shot back out again... Or maybe not.

We are all drunk like it or not with the family life we have been born into.
Visit the official website of Kathleen Hill.

--Marshal Zeringue