New York Times best-selling author Francine Prose is known for writing novels that explore controversial issues. In her latest novel, Goldengrove (Harper Collins), Prose delves into a family’s desperation after a young girl’s unexpected death. The author will be on hand at Spoken Interludes on October 16 (see page 226 for ticket informaton), but we caught up with her beforehand.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Goldengrove?
A: The subject is grief. I started writing this book not very long after my mother died, at a time when I was familiar with grief. It’s about that experience and the recovery and how, in one summer, a family and particularly the narrator begin to make their way back. A friend of mine said the book is about that moment when you first realize that your parents can’t help you anymore.
Q: Your books often touch on sensitive issues, such as a school shooting in After and a student/teacher affair in Blue Angel. Why take on these topics?
A: My son, a musician, quoted a famous jazz musician as saying, ‘If you’re not scared when you go out to do a solo, you are not going to play anything worth playing.’ I think there is a certain component of that in writing. If it is not something that makes you and everyone else nervous, why write it?
Q: Would you ever consider Westchester as a setting for a novel?
A: It could happen. Goldengrove takes place in upstate New York, and that’s not that far away. I have family in Westchester, so I am not a complete stranger to the area.
// Carrie Schmelkin
How does this book compare or contrast to your previous novels?
People have described my previous novels as satiric, sardonic, or comedies, and this novel is certainly not a comedy. It’s much more serious and much more accessible for those reasons. There are little things that are funny, but I don’t think anyone would ever call this satirical.
How do you go about assuming the mindset of the main character Nico, a thirteen-year-old, coping with the death of her sister?
I was thirteen at one point so I try to remember what that was like. Writers are eavesdroppers, so if I am around kids anywhere I am always listening to their tones and their expressions.
It’s been argued that the main character Nico will become a great adolescent literary tradition like that of Twain’s Huck Finn and Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. Do you agree with this?
Yes and, in fact, few of those characters are girls so this might be one of the few that is about a young girl.
Some of your novels have moved on to other art forms, such as Household Saints being adopted for a movie and The Glorious Ones being translated into a musical. How does this make you feel?
I feel very lucky. I love the movie and love the musical. I know other writers have stories to tell, but this is a happy one. The film and the musical are really terrific examples.