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Author Archive: "Jill Owens"

David Mitchell: The Powells.com Interview

David Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone Clocks focuses on Holly Sykes, who begins the book in 1984 as a British teenager and ends it as a grandmother in 2043. Holly's otherwise ordinary life is interrupted by voices, whom she initially calls the "radio people," and psychic experiences, which ultimately pull her into a sort of supernatural, immortal war. Joe Hill raves, "There's no real argument: he's the best novelist of his generation — and the most fun. The Bone Clocks is a stunning work of invention, incident, and character. The levels of awesome in this book are off the charts." Gorgeously written, bracingly intelligent, poignant, and occasionally very funny, The Bone Clocks is one of our favorite novels this year and our pick for Volume 49 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: What was the genesis of The Bone Clocks?

David Mitchell: There were a couple of geneses. One was my middle age — it's my midlife crisis novel. I've reached that age where mortality is no longer a distant abstract in the future ("it will ...


The Bone Clocks

With the sweeping global vision and ability to sum up whole eras of time that he's become known for, along with a fascinating dose of fantasy, The Bone Clocks is David Mitchell's most enthralling and illuminating novel yet. Gorgeously written, bracingly intelligent, poignant, and occasionally very funny, The Bone Clocks is one of my favorite novels this year.


Poems

Elizabeth Bishop's poetry is dearly loved amongst her fans but perhaps not as well-known as it should be; for one of America's towering talents of the 20th century, she is not read nearly as much as Eliot or Whitman, or even cummings. That may be in part because of her relatively slim output — this volume of all her poetic works clocks in at only 368 pages. But the care she took with her poetry is evident; every word is perfectly chosen, none wasted or missing. Her work is fiercely intelligent, poignant, surprising, plainspoken, and wrought from imagery both familiar and extraordinary. A must-read for anyone who is interested in poetry, language, or indeed literature at all, Bishop's Poems speaks deeply to what makes us human.


The Handmaid’s Tale

Atwood's classic dystopian novel of a terrifying (and terrifyingly plausible) future America has rewarded rereading like no other book; I've probably read it 30 times by now. The world of the narrator, Offred (from "Of Fred" — women no longer have their own names), is chilling, but she is a magnificent survivor and chronicler, and the details of everything from mundane daily life to ritualized sex and violence to her reminiscences of the time before (our contemporary reality, as seen in the '80s) are absolutely realistic. The novel is as relevant today as ever; feminist backlashes continue to wax and wane, but women's rights remain in the spotlight. And despite its scenarios of great despair, The Handmaid's Tale is ultimately a hopeful book — Offred, and others, simply cannot be human without the possibility of hope, and therein lies the strength of the resistance. All of Atwood is worth reading, but this book best exemplifies the cultural and psychological impact that a work of fiction can create.


Gilead

Set in 1956, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is a letter from the elderly Reverend John Ames to his very young son. Ames has lived all of his life in Gilead, Iowa, and the novel delves into the history of the area through the characters of Ames's father and grandfather — also ministers, but deeply divided on ideas such as pacifism, duty, and the abolitionist movement. And eventually, when John Ames Boughton, Ames's namesake and godson, returns to Gilead, he brings up old tensions and sets events in motion that disturb Ames's formerly peaceful last days. Gilead is one of the most beautifully written books of the new century thus far, and Robinson's incredibly insightful grappling with faith, mortality, and what constitutes a meaningful life will resonate with readers across every spectrum.


Josh Weil: The Powells.com Interview

Dima and Yarik are twin brothers in a Russia set in a slightly alternate universe, in the city of Petroplavilsk. The city is in perpetual daylight, thanks to the Oranzheria — a "sea of glass" greenhouse built over farmlands lit by mirrors in space. Though inseparable in childhood, Dima and Yarik begin to take radically different paths as they navigate adulthood, family, responsibility, and ideology. The Great Glass Sea, the first novel by "5 Under 35" winner Josh Weil, is steeped in Russian folklore and fable, and is a moving and ingenious tale of familial love. Library Journal calls it "resplendent and incandescent," and Lauren Groff exclaims, "The Great Glass Sea is our world made uncanny: the Russian countryside of folktale and literature turned darkly luminous, menacing, and brittle. I was intoxicated by this novel's brains and I fell hopelessly in love with its heart. Josh Weil is a spectacular talent." We were so impressed with it, we chose it for our Indiespensable Volume 48.

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Jill Owens: In your first book, The New Valley, you write very movingly about rural Virginia; it plays a huge part in those novellas. ...


Lorrie Moore: The Powells.com Interview

More than most writers, Lorrie Moore has devoted readers who fervently await each of her new publications with something approaching reverence. With the release of her last novel, A Gate at the Stairs, Jonathan Lethem declared himself one of those fans: "Moore may be the most irresistible contemporary American writer....On finishing A Gate at the Stairs, I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately." Bark, Moore's latest work and first book of short stories in 15 years, showcases her razor-edged humor, her dazzling skill with language, and her incredible psychological precision. Reading Bark, I realized that as much as I love her novels, I'd been missing the irresistible pull of her stories terribly without knowing it. Kirkus agreed in a starred review: "One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act, with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph....In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision."

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Jill Owens: How did this new collection, Bark, come together? Had you been working on some of the stories while writing other things?

Lorrie Moore: Bark is a collection of stories written over 10 years, from the period of 2003 to 2013. They are arranged more or less in chronological order. During that time I was also working on a novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which was published in 2009. Though there has been some commentary that this is a slim collection, it is my second longest. I think the bound galley made it look smaller than it was. There are eight stories, as there were in my second collection, Like Life. Do I sound sufficiently defensive?

Jill: Did you know that the longer stories — "Wings" and "Debarked" — would remain stories rather than become novels?

Moore: Actually I imagined "Debarking" would be shorter and that "Wings" would be longer, perhaps a novella. But they were never destined to become novels.

Jill: What do you like about working in those different forms (short stories and novels)?


Anthony Doerr: The Powells.com Interview

For months before I read it, coworkers would rave during meetings, send me glowing emails, or stop me in the hall to tell me how much they loved All the Light We Cannot See. We couldn't keep advance reader copies in the office for more than a few hours. I had long been a fan of Anthony Doerr, for his extraordinary short stories in The Shell Collector and Memory Wall and his previous novel, About Grace. His newest novel, set during World War II, tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl living in occupied France, and Werner, an 18-year-old German soldier who was conscripted from an orphanage due to his extraordinary mechanical abilities. A missing, possibly cursed jewel known as the Sea of Flames; scale-models of neighborhoods in Paris and Saint-Malo made by Marie's father to teach her how to navigate; a secret ocean cove with snails and mussels — Doerr's remarkable story is filled with gorgeous, almost magical imagery you might not expect in a war novel.

Jess Walter gushes, "All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the ...


The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison is a marvel. The essays that make up this collection are wise, uncomfortable, beautiful, humane, and utterly absorbing. They demand an investigation of the reader's own heart. I can't think of another book I've recommended to so many people so fiercely. I'm already happy to declare it the best nonfiction book of 2014.


Tessa Hadley: The Powells.com Interview

Tessa Hadley is a British novelist and short story writer who is highly praised by critics, frequently published in the New Yorker, and regularly compared to Alice Munro and Colm Tóibín. But I am convinced she remains underread in this country. Hadley quietly and brilliantly illuminates seemingly ordinary lives in stories that shine with emotional depth, psychological wisdom, and understated wit. Her prose is masterful and precise, and her characters linger in the mind long after the books have ended.

Her latest novel, Clever Girl, follows Stella throughout her life in Bristol, England, from when she is born in 1956 to age 50. She becomes a young single mother; has various love affairs, friendships, and careers; tries on identities and freedoms as historical eras change around her — in other words, lives her life. But Hadley's novel ignites that single life until it blazes.

We agree with London's Literary Review: "This is Hadley's extraordinary skill as a novelist: to navigate and narrate the fleeting moments in an individual's life when the future crystallises, by choice and circumstance, for good or for bad....Clever Girl is a remarkable novel by one of this country's finest, if ...


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