Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kathleen George

Kathleen George, author of police thrillers, was an Edgar finalist for best novel for The Odds. A trade edition of The Odds was released last month.

Her new novel is Hideout, the sequel to The Odds.

Earlier this summer I asked George what she was reading. Her reply:
Something about summer beach vacations (I had a sort of extended double vacation this year)—I craved family dramas. I chose The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson, a writer I had been hearing a lot about over the years, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, which I ‘read’ as an audiobook. The only problem was me. Both novels deal with large families, elder daughters in troubled marriages, young men who drift, serious problems with drugs and alcohol, decades either passing or remembered, auto accidents. Both have the gift of universality: not my family but somehow my family. Mothers are disappointed in their daughters. The generations can’t see eye to eye. Wars mark the lives of the men and damage spreads all around. Parents die. Women become widowed. Grandchildren have mixed feelings about grandparents.

I listened and read during the same period, alternating. So sometimes I mixed up a character or an event.

But what stands out? Maggie in Maine, too smart to be thirty-two and pregnant, but self-destructive enough to get herself into that scrape. A writer. Alice in Maine, the beautiful matriarch, as mean as Olive Kittredge and as potent a force. Ryan in The Year We Left Home—so lost, so unable to form a good relationship with a woman, never mind his charm and good looks. Chip, Ryan’s war damaged cousin, also hopeless at relationships, but cheerful enough to keep trying, dopey enough to keep doping. Family in both—the unsung who get old and die and are mourned incompletely by the young people they served and loved.

Both novels are told in rotating points of view, close, attached. When someone seems like a monster to one character, we readers get to see them up close and personal a chapter later and we find ourselves shifting, sympathetic.

Then, what? Not enough family for me? I picked up Stewart O’Nan’s Emily, Alone. This book in its way is a family drama too. But we learn about the disappointing daughter and the drifting young man (grandson) from the single attached point of view of Emily.

She’s old, afraid to drive, but she drives. She’s reluctant to visit the cemetery but she gets there. And plants. And feels the downward tug of mortality.

She may be a Republican, a lover of classical music, a dog owner, but she is Everywoman. And it’s because of O’Nan’s extraordinary detail. She fetches a tissue from a box, but since it’s the last one, the box lifts. After she separates box and tissue, she (good quartermaster even for herself, alone), goes to her supply of new boxes. She pulls off the plastic wrapping. She works the opening to pull out a new tissue and then proceeds to rearrange the boxes in the house to put the fuller boxes in the more trafficked areas.

I do that. I am not Emily. My family is not hers. I am Emily.

Literary novels are being shoved off the shelves. Agents say they can’t give them away. But some people are still writing them. The word patience comes to mind. And thoughtfulness. I am glad these writers exist. I feel like I’m talking about quiet good cousins in the family of writers.
Visit Kathleen George's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Odds.

The Page 69 Test: Hideout.

My Book, The Movie: Hideout.

--Marshal Zeringue