Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beth Gutcheon

Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of the novels The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Gutcheon's new novel is The Affliction.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The novel that completely knocked my socks off this year was Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. I reviewed the audio version for AudioFile Magazine, and am so glad I took the assignment; I almost didn’t, as it didn’t sound like my line of country. Forget that. It is gorgeously written, a rare quality in a book that also has a plot that moves like a train. When reading audiobooks I’m usually outdoors in earphones taking long walks to nowhere. Nearing the end of this one, I was so gripped that I didn’t even want the distraction of crossing a busy street so I kept walking around and around the same block in SoHo until I found out what had happened to … oh, just read it. Don’t read plot summaries, don’t worry what it’s about, it’s a marvel.

Last June a friend handed me a biography of Iris Origo. A writer with a beautiful style, Iris had been raised in Tuscany in the 20’s by her English mother, and had married a Florentine count. As World War II approached, she chose to stay in her adopted country rather than seek safety in Switzerland or return to friends in England. Her fascinating life story led me to her war diary, War in Val D’Orcia, which tells in her own voice what it was like on the ground in Italy during the incredible confusion of first Mussolini, then the partisans, then the Germans, as ordinary people sheltered refugee children, hid and fed escaped Allied prisoners of war, and resisted Fascism in ways that no one outside the country knew was happening. Amazing story, in an indelible voice.

My friend Vicky Bijur, who represents Laura Lippman, gave me an early copy of Sunburn. Nothing like setting the bar high: Lippman makes it no secret that she’s writing an homage to the great James M. Cain, another Maryland crime writer, and for me, she hits it out of the park. The plot is noir and tricky, she’s two steps ahead of you the whole time, and the ending is both satisfying and heart-wrenching.

My Christmas reading was Avedon, Something Personal, by Norma Stevens and Steven M.L.Aronson, a word portrait of the great photographic portraitist, Richard Avedon. It was flu season in Maine, and I was too sick to get out of bed and didn’t care because I didn’t want to stop reading anyway. (The only other time in my life that happened, it was a stomach bug and the book was I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass, in case you feel two bouts of indisposition coming on.) The Avedon was on my Christmas list less because I knew much about Avedon, than because I’m a huge fan of Steven Aronson’s work in the oral history form. For me, nobody living does it better. To see even an ordinary human personality and life from so many points of view is an experience only art can give you and Avedon was anything but ordinary. A novelist can only marvel at the layers and subtle shifts of understanding woven together here as different kinds of people react to the same man in so many different ways. And Avedon’s pictures! Not that there are many in the book; you have to keep your device by your side the whole time so you can google the images being talked about. You’ll be amazed at what a vivid record his pictures made of the latter half of the American century and how many scores of them are already part of your memory bank.
Visit Beth Gutcheon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue