Synopses & Reviews
Karen E. Bender burst on to the literary scene a decade ago with her luminous first novel, Like Normal People
, which garnered remarkable acclaim.
A Town of Empty Rooms presents the story of Serena and Dan Shine, estranged from one another as they separately grieve over the recent loss of Serenas father and Dans older brother. Serenas actions cause the couple and their two small children to be banished from New York City, and they settle in the only town that will offer Dan employment: Waring, North Carolina. There, in the Bible belt of America, Serena becomes enmeshed with the small Jewish congregation in town led by an esoteric rabbi, whose increasingly erratic behavior threatens the future of his flock. Dan and their young son are drawn into the Boy Scouts by their mysterious and vigilant neighbor, who may not have their best intentions at heart. Tensions accrue when matters of faith, identity, community, and family all fall into the crosshairs of contemporary, small-town America. A Town of Empty Rooms presents a fascinating insight into the lengths we will go to discover just where we belong.
"After a dramatic and expensive breakdown in the wake of her father's death, Serena, the middle-aged mother of two at the center of Bender's new novel (after Like Normal People), finds it impossible to find work in New York City. Eager for a new start, she and her husband, Dan, 'encased in ice' since his brother's death, move to the only town where he can find a job: Waring, N.C. Desperate for direction in life outside of her foundering marriage, Serena falls in with the local Jewish community under the spell of a charismatic though mercurial rabbi whose complex personality threatens to rend the congregation. Dan, meanwhile, pursues another path to social acceptance by enrolling their son in the local Boy Scouts. As Dan and Serena cope with their sinister neighbor Forrest, as well as with simmering anti-Semitism, they attempt to salvage their marriage and forge a new life in diminished circumstances. While Bender's social consciousness is at times allowed to take over, she's a keen observer of marriage and the psychological bonds that tie mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. The novel excels in stirring the reader's sympathy and outrage, even if a tendency toward poetic justice tends to weaken the effect. Bender's first novel in more than 10 years offers an absorbing and often touching look at the struggles of an urban middle-class family to adjust to an unfamiliar America rural, provincial, and homogenous. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Praise for A Town of Empty Rooms
In the very best of fiction, an intimate, spiritual communion momentarily transpires between reader and author. In the case of Benders novel, these moments occur during these flawless passages of authentic longing and isolation. Like some of todays best contemporary realistic authors, Bender skillfully excavates and animates the human fragilities and missteps of life, transporting the reader deeper into the narrative and the interior lives of her characters. Taken together, A Town of Empty Rooms elicits both great pleasure and heartache.” Boston Globe
Benders a keen observer of marriage and the psychological bonds that tie mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. The novel excels in stirring the readers sympathy and outrage
Bender offers an absorbing and often touching look at the struggles of an urban middle-class family to adjust to an unfamiliar Americarural, provincial, and homogeneous.” Publishers Weekly
Bender has created complex characters in a novel that provocatively considers our basic need to connect with other people, and how very fragile those connections can be.” Booklist
"Conversations about love, faith, belonging, and the nature of God rattle and hum throughout Karen Benders outstanding new novel, A Town of Empty Rooms. The book itself is a series of conversations, though it is the ones we dont have, Bender suggests, that matter the most." Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I read this absorbing book in one sitting. It has everything to make you go on reading conflict, hope, disappointment; displays of confusion, displays of ignorance, displays of foolishness; and, at bottom, an affecting depiction of human isolation.” Edith Pearlman
Karen Benders novel is filled with subtle recognitions. As her exiled characters rebuild their lives, they discover the human hearts resilient capacity for love. A Town of Empty Rooms does what all terrific novels do: it resonates with the reader long after its covers have been closed. Read the book; youll see.” Tom Grimes, author of Mentor: A Memoir
"Bender portrays a marriage in crisis with heartbreaking accuracy." Kirkus
A Town of Empty Rooms is a gift to anyone who loves real books about real people. It is profound, moving, and so beautifully written as to break your heart. Its as though Karen Bender is channeling Willa Cather, with a bit of George Orwell. Charming, real, and absolutely necessary.” -Craig Nova, author of The Constant Heart
Quiet power is something we have too little of in our fiction these days, so I cherished it all the more in Karen Benders Town of Empty Rooms. She observes her characters from what you might call a respectful distance, but in a way that penetrates to the psychic muck. She knows that gossip is one of the ways we reveal ourselves. This doesnt sound like any other book about a Southern small town.” -John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
About the Author
Karen E. Bender is the author of a novel, Like Normal People
. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker
, Harvard Review
, The Iowa Review
, and other magazines. Her stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories
, Best American Mystery Stories
, New Stories from the South: The Years Best
, and have won two Pushcart prizes. She has won grants from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the NEA. She is also co-editor of the anthology Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion
. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, novelist Robert Anthony Siegel, and their two children, and teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.