Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nicholas Montemarano

Nicholas Montemarano is the author of the novel, A Fine Place (2002), and the short story collection If the Sky Falls (2005), a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.

His new novel is The Book of Why.

Earlier this month I asked Montemarano about what he was reading.  His reply:
By now I’m afraid that people think I’m related to Richard Ford or on his payroll—that’s how often and with such enthusiasm I’ve been telling everyone to read Ford’s latest novel, Canada, the best book I read in 2012 and one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I keep it on my desk along with other favorites just so I can look at its spine and be inspired.

Listen to this: “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

From this first brief paragraph, just four sentences, I was hooked. The narrator gives away plot points many novelists would not in the first few sentences, but in doing so he raises other, more compelling questions: Why did his parents commit a robbery? Where? What murders, and how are they related to the robbery? What courses did his and his sister’s lives follow?

And then there’s the narrator’s voice, which exerts its authority with the first three words: “First, I’ll tell…” Ford is saying, “I’m in complete control of this 418-page novel you’re about to read. I know exactly how I’m going to tell it and in exactly what order. I’ve thought it all through—no need to worry, just sit back and listen.”

I read Canada slowly, rereading some chapters several times before continuing. I wanted my experience of reading this novel to last as long as possible. That’s the greatest compliment I could ever give an author.

I can give the same compliment to Claire Keegan after reading her short book Foster—really a long story, which appeared in abridged form in The New Yorker in 2010. It’s the most recent book I read, and I can’t shake it. It’s about a girl in rural Ireland who spends a summer with her childless aunt and uncle because her mother is expecting yet another child and can’t afford to support all her children. The word-by-word precision of this story is astounding. Every detail matters. You must pay attention: Keegan is subtle and trusts in your patience and intelligence. I read Foster in one long sitting in a coffee shop. I was reading beside my wife. Every few pages I would remove my glasses, put them on the table, and sigh. My wife asked what was wrong. “Nothing at all,” I said. “It’s this story—it’s perfect.”

Both Canada and Foster are first-person stories in which narrators look back on pivotal childhood events. But the similarities go beyond that—the controlled prose, the gradual revelation, the precise details. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Richard Ford had selected Foster as winner of the 2009 Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award. Ford had recognized Keegan’s brilliance, and somehow this validated my coupling of these two incredible writers.
Visit Nicholas Montemarano's website, Facebook page, and Twiiter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Why.

--Marshal Zeringue