Almost two weeks ago The Divining Wand showcased The Revealing of Maud Carol Markson, an author who debuted twenty years ago with When We Get Home. And — although this literary fiction novel earned high praise, including Andre Dubus’s (the critically acclaimed author of numerous short story collections, recipient of a Guggenheim Grant, etc.) quote: “It may be the best story we have about marital love.” — it still took two decades for Maud’s second novel, Looking After Pigeon, to be published this summer.
Of course such a time gap between two books begs the question of “Why?” and Maud graciously explained that she had put her family first…while continuing to write and send her work out occasionally. However the reality is that getting literary fiction published is difficult and, when rejections began to take their toil, the author turned her focus on being a good mother, wife, tutor, friend, dog owner and volunteer — all things she could be proud of.
Indeed it’s frequently noted that to succeed in the world of publishing one needs a “thick skin” and avoid taking rejections “personally.” Nevertheless what Maud did was brave and right for her. Besides, stepping away from the competitive field for a while gave her perspective. She continued to write without thinking of herself as a writer — both a luxury and a respite. And once her teenage son was away at college she allowed her “wonderful writer friend” — Harriet Scott Chessman (Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper — to push her into sending out her work again. Thank goodness for Ms. Chessman because that is how Looking After Pigeon came to be published.
The Reviews: Authors/Publications are glowing as well they should be from the book’s description: “In this, her second novel, Markson once again explores the sometimes humorous, and always complex, realm of family and love. Her characters struggle to answer the questions—who will care for me? How will I care for myself?”
Why should they question or worry? Please read the following one sentence synopsis:
“One spring day in New York City, five-year-old Pigeon’s father disappears, leaving her to face a new and bewildering life with her mother and older siblings in an uncle’s house on the Jersey shore.”
A perfect description of Looking After Pigeon, but what’s even better is the backstory. For Maud Carol Markson’s explanation of a backstory is fascinating:
“As for the “backstory” on Pigeon — It is the “backstory” for all my novels. A line gets into my head that I can’t stop thinking about. In this case it was “My mother named us after birds.” Then I start thinking about what kind of woman would name her children after birds. Having an unusual name myself, I think about names a lot. Then I thought about the person who “says” this line. What bird is she? How did this affect her growing up? What are the names of her siblings, the other birds? The characters build from that one line, and then the story builds from the characters.”
Who is Pigeon? Meet her in these two Excerpts from the book as she begins telling her summer story through a fictional memoir format that works brilliantly and had some reviewers wondering…autobiographical?
Definitely not! Except, as the author concedes: “But the emotions of all the characters are mine — that I can’t escape.”
And those who read Maud’s characters’ emotions will not escape their engagingly bittersweet tale. Simple and profound, Pigeon’s story is about a watershed moment in her all too young life that shapes her forever. We all have those moments — recognized at the time or not — but this little five-year old must deal with so much.
She yearns to belong, even to a dysfunctional family, and comes across as an old soul wrapped within a little girl’s body. That enough of her innocence remains intact offers everyone else both hope and strength.
Yes I do love “quiet little novels” which roar with enormous insight and wisdom. If you do as well, visit a bookstore or online retailer to purchase Looking After Pigeon and take it home. Because home is where Pigeon wants to be.
[Note: In celebration of today, the last day of summer, The Divining Wand begins another Book Giveaway. To enter to win a copy of Looking After Pigeon, please leave a comment with the most unusual first name of a “real” person you know. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner announced in Thursday’s post.]