Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr was raised in San Francisco, California, and now lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the author of How to Save a Life, What We Lost, Sweethearts, and the National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl.

Her new novel is The Lucy Variations.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Zarr's reply:
I recently finished Better Food for a Better World, by Erin McGraw (The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard), the debut book of a new publishing venture, Slant Books. It's about love and marriage and family ties, but not in the way any other book I've read is about love and marriage and family ties. It's funny, for one thing. I laughed more while I read this book than I've laughed with a novel in a long time. It's not just funny, though. McGraw manages to hold hope, loss, and longing together in a deft balance with the humor, a lot like one of the side characters--a juggler named Fredd--negotiates a mug, a napkin, and a wristwatch during his act:
Vivy couldn't imagine how he kept all the oddly weighted objects in rotation, much less how he could do so while he showboated, catching the wristwatch under his leg, strolling around the stage, whistling.
Vivy is the lead in the book, though the storytelling job is shared by several viewpoint characters and the Greek chorus of the community's semi-absurd marriage group, Life Ties. (I say "semi" because anyone who has been part of a church group, an encounter group, or part of an overly self-aware family will probably recognize the real experience here.) Vivy and her husband and friends run an ice cream shop in town that's making attempts--sometimes valiant, sometimes vain--to address the hungers of their community beyond ice cream. Hunger for joy, entertainment, beauty, art, world peace, marital bliss, and right relationships with each other and the world are all in play.

They don't aways recognize the effect that their own appetites are having on their quest for the greater good, or even for their own good.

When Vivy starts to suspect her husband has a crush on another woman in their circle, she wonders over his hankering:
Vivy wouldn't have minded Sam dreaming about a nymph. But the notion that he was sighing over prudent, frugal Cecilia, devoted Life Ties member, once-a-month soup kitchen volunteer, earnest stick of a woman who dressed like a Puritan and belonged to the El Campo Arbor Society unsettled Vivy. What in the world could he be hungry for, if Cecilia Moore satisfied the craving? The best Vivy could do was hope the taste was fleeting and easily sated, like his occasional yen for pickles.
It's Vivy's restlessness that drives the action, but all of the characters mismanage their need for better food in ways funny, frustrating, unusual, and moving. Toward the end, the Life Ties chorus observes:
People drag their hungers behind them like tin cans on a string--for a mother who loved enough, for a sister who came home, for a boyfriend who didn't shoot himself, for a dog that didn't die. Nothing goes away. After a while we get tired of all that wanting.
This has been the most surprisingly affecting read of my year so far.
Visit Sara Zarr's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Sara Zarr (June 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue