Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Festival Followups

The best thing--and the worst thing--about attending a literary festival is that I leave with a list: books I must read. In fact, with the books there and the authors available to sign them, I don't always settle for a list. I have to have a book or two (or more).

Sure enough, after the recent North Carolina Literary Festival, I came home with (among others) Abide with Me, an earlier novel by Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge, and The Wet Nurse's Tale, a first novel by Erica Eisdorfer, whose "day job" is managing the UNC's on-campus bookstore.

Strout sets Abide with Me in New England, following the story of an earnest young minister Tyler Caskey, in the early sixties coping with the death of his wife, the rearing of his two young daughters, and living under the scrutiny of his small-town congregation. Strout has a knack for presenting flawed, layered characters who frustrate readers, even as we grow to love them. As a preacher's daughter myself, I am particularly sensitive to treatment of clergy in literature and film. The only character more caricatured than a minister is probably a Southern minister. Strout escapes the trap into which so many writers fall, stooping to stereotypes.

The Wet Nurse's Tale took me must further back in time, as Eisdorfer spins an intriguing believable tale of an English country girl who follows her mother's path and becomes a wet nurse to women who either cannot nourish their own young or who prefer not to do so. Susan Rose is likable and believable. She has a quick wit, a keen sense of humor, and a pragmatism. Eisdorfer's period details and dialogue easily transport readers back in time.

In both cases, even though I had just recently heard the authors read from their works, I found that I was able to dismiss their voices, falling easily into the world they created. I am glad to know I have at least one more Strout novel Amy and Isabel yet to read. I do hope Eisdorfer is either deep in research again or typing away in her time off.

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