Monday, March 4, 2013
Among the many wonderful people I met at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference (a conference I attended so that I could spend more time with the great Jayne Anne Phillips)—Brooks Hansen, Anne Lamott, Jane Satterfield, Leslie Pietrzyk, Jay Kirk, Olena Kalytiak Davis, my first editor, Alane Salierno Mason (W.W. Norton), my second editor in chief, Janet Silver, Grace Paley, even—there was a young scholarship winner named Susan Tekulve, who hailed from the south and told intriguing tales. Through the years Susan and I remained in touch as she published short stories and built a reputation as a fine teacher at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. She traveled to and taught in Italy. She spent time among the Appalachian hills, where my great grandfather had left a mark. She brokered fascinating details. She was always humble and she, like me, loved chocolate, cats, and gardens.
Not long ago, Susan won the South Carolina First Novel Prize for In the Garden of Stone, which will be released in a beautifully designed package by Hub City Press in late April. Kirkus gave it a huge star. Library Journal named it as a Spring Break. None other than Robert Olmstead, Thomas E. Kennedy, and Josephine Humphreys have sung its praises, and I asked for an early copy.
This is the book I've been desperate to read, and my joy for Susan, my enthusiasm, my deep respect, I'll use the word "awe"—it overflows. I'm 100 pages in and now must leave it for a spell to do some corporate work. I'll write a full response in a few days. But for now let me say that this generational book about the south and southern Italy (yes, they combine to perfection here) is so brilliantly built and quietly affecting that I could choose any single paragraph and it would impress you.
Here's just one. It's 1924, the first evening of a southern honeymoon.
Around the mountain pool, the butterflies flattened themselves against long, polished stones, drinking the water held in their dimpled surfaces. Emma took off her shoes and walked across the slippery rocks. Water sprayed her face and arms as she dodged the drinking butterflies and stood at the pool's edge, watching the giant trout swim around the pool. Dark blue and mottled, they skulled just below the surface, gulping up butterflies and water, their stomachs filling like empty buckets. She saw now why her husband had released them. She, too, was satisfied just to know that they were there.