Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Debra Dean

Debra Dean’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, The Mirrored World, was released last month.

A native of Seattle, Dean lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading. Her reply:
School’s in session again, so much of what I’m reading is as yet unpublished: my MFA students’ manuscripts. But I’m playing hooky right now with Ann Bauer’s The Forever Marriage, which came out in June. It’s an astute psychological depiction of a woman, recently widowed, who believes herself finally free of a stultifying marriage. Then she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Facing down her own mortality, she reexamines her marriage to a kind but socially awkward math genius and surprises herself with a depth of feeling she had not previously suspected. One of the things I’m really appreciating in this novel is that the protagonist is not yet another amiable heroine in a relentlessly uplifting story. There’s no pink bow. It’s better than that: Bauer’s taking the risk to give us a real woman, acerbic and honest and flawed, one who is growing as the novel unfolds.

Over the summer, I read a couple of wonderful books. Ann Patchett is one of my favorite go-to writers, and State of Wonder didn’t disappoint. A paean to Heart of Darkness, the novel is a richly imagined and engaging adventure tale. A mild-mannered scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company is sent to the Amazon to learn what has become of a top-secret research project that is a potential goldmine for the company. Her colleague and friend, sent before her, has been reported dead under mysterious circumstances, and the director of the project refuses to relay back anything more than the curtest snippets of information. State of Wonder creates a delicious tension in the reader: the desire to slow down and savor beautiful prose against the itch to turn the page.

And then a book that I had been meaning to get to since I first heard about it: Faith by Jennifer Haigh. It is set in Boston, 2002, and narrated by the sister of a priest accused of abusing a boy in his parish. Before you turn away – yes, who wants to engage with this continuing horror? – consider this: the novel is brilliant, eminently humane and thoughtful, suspenseful but without a drop of melodrama. Did he or didn’t he is only the surface concern; Haigh explores the subterranean dynamics of the family and the Church and the ties that bind us to each. I’m in awe of her talents.
Visit Debra Dean's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue