Monday, October 12, 2009

Gerri Brightwell

Gerri Brightwell is Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing in the Department of English at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She has master’s degrees in creative writing from the University of East Anglia (1989) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (1994), plus a doctorate in literature from the University of Minnesota (2004).

Her most recent novel is The Dark Lantern (Crown, 2008).

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've just finished reading the first novel in Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, "Storm in June" (she was planning to write five novels but was murdered by the Nazis before she could complete more than the first two). The novel is only 200 pages but it feels like a much longer story, more like something you'd expect to have come out of the nineteenth century. I've described it as like War and Peace, only without the peace--it has the same broad scope, following a number of characters as they flee Paris during the Nazi invasion. Although it might seem to be about the war, Némirovsky keeps military confrontations in the background. What interests her--and what I found captivating--was how she used the novel to show us this suddenly changed and troubling world through the eyes of a mostly unsympathetic but intriguing set of characters: a narcissistic writer and his mistress, a wealthy collector of antiques, a well-off family (and their cat!). Némirovsky doesn't shy away from revealing these people as snobs, as selfish, as caught up in their own interests. Although we don't like them, we can gain a little understanding of what drives them, and wince when they behave badly. There are some moments of incredible writing in this novel: a view of young trees from the far side of a bridge that turn out to be the camouflaging branches tied to German tanks, the sudden and awful destruction left by the bombing of a railway station. This is a novel about human behaviour rather than war--but it is also an incredible portrait of France at a historical moment.
Visit Gerri Brightwell's faculty webpage and read more about The Dark Lantern.

--Marshal Zeringue