Every six weeks or so, I get together with some of my favorite friends and talk books. Until now, we’ve met at a coffee shop, spoken about our impressions of the book, and let conversation morph into one about our lives and loves.
I selected the book AfterImage by Carla Malden. It was recommended to me last summer at a writer’s conference as an example of a memoir that seamlessly moves from the past to the future while telling a beautiful love story.
Normally, books about women whose husbands have died make me jealous. My marriage was heinous, and I really wanted my husband to die. I prayed for it to happen. It never did.
But this book tells of an enviable relationship that began for the writer as a teenager and led to a personal and professional partnership (the two were screenwriters) that ended too soon. The author had me hooked in the first paragraph:
“Mrs. Starkman,” said the doctor, “sit down.”
Ten months, three week later, my husband was dead.
Cancer is an awesome opponent. Sometimes it wins. Even when it most should not. Even when all goodness is on the other side.
I wasn’t the only one who loved AfterImage. We all agreed that it was lyrically written, universally relatable, and pretty funny in spots for a book of its kind.
I saw on the author’s site that she attends book groups in person or via Skype when possible. She responded immediately when I submitted a request. Due to the time difference between Alaska and California, we settled on a Q and A format. The group submitted their questions and comments to me which I forwarded on to Ms. Malden.
What was it like, writing this without your husband who you wrote with for ages?
It was the only type of writing I could do without him. I could not return to screenwriting (and still have not). This was a completely different type of writing — more individual, less dependent on a particular structure. I found I could access that voice, whereas I didn’t feel I had the confidence or the inclination to write a screenplay without him. We had developed a rhythm as to how to do that together over the years that I didn’t feel I could re-invent. This book took on a method of its own. I had to write it, in a way, even though it was agonizing.
Was it a cathartic experience?
“Cathartic” isn’t precisely the right word. But it was a learning experience. I learned that I really love writing prose which I hadn’t done in a long time. In retrospect (as it’s been a few years now since I finished the actual writing), I realize that it was important for me to turn the events of that year into some sort of narrative that I could wrap my arms around, to make it less surreal. Writing the book helped me understand that this had really happened… and, at the same time, turned it into a “story” that I could somehow contain (or, at least, have the illusion of containing). Maybe it helped stop that “story” from subsuming the rest of my life because for a while there, I really felt like I would never come up for air. Wasn’t sure I wanted to — which I think is necessary part of the process. I now believe you have to make that daily choice to live — in whatever limited way you can — when you’re in the darkest depths of an experience like that.
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading “Defending Jacob” which is a courtroom best seller — the kind of thing I very rarely read, but it happened to be on a Kindle that was given to me. (I rarely read on the Kindle either — I prefer the old-fashioned way!). Before that, I read a book called “Heft” that I found enormously inventive and compelling. Within the past year I was on a Meg Wolitzer kick — caught up with everything of hers I hadn’t read before, and then, coincidentally, her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, just came out with a new book called “An Available Man” which I really enjoyed (though it kind of freaked me out because it’s about a widower and parts of it were so much like a fictionalized version of my book).
There were a few more questions she answered, but you get the drift, Reader. Suddenly reading a touching story became a real conversation, and our book group was so thankful that our author provided insight. And the author was sincerely touched that we chose her book to read and spent time discussing it.
Our 3d book group was a great success. Next group, we’re hoping to have local author Bong attend with us and tell us about writing Escape to Survive.
What tips do you have to keep your book group fun and relevant?