Synopses & Reviews
A middle-class ex-Manhattanite, a cash-strapped single mother, and a young member of an obscure religious "sect," become entangled in a Catskills town.
Claire Pedersen and her husband are relocating from NYC to the Catskills — they have found a terrific deal on a property in foreclosure. The house has been in April Ives' family for three generations, but the single mother of three children from two different fathers needs the money. Claire and April are instantly antagonistic, but the sale proceeds, and renovations begin.
Soon after, Claire's husband develops an erotic fascination with Anna, a young member of a nearby religious community called The Eternals. Two marriages — and one pregnancy — swiftly and dramatically end. Claire is left to finish the renovation and salvage the life she had imagined. April, meanwhile, is dealing with her ex who has just been released from prison on a drug charge and the decision of whether or not to let him build a relationship with the son he has never known.
Life "upcountry" means close encounters between disparate social classes: Claire and April navigate mutual dislike and unanticipated empathy. The house remains a sore point for both. Anna is the unhappy fulcrum between the two older women. Shunned from The Eternals since the incident with Claire's husband, she yearns to return to their protection. Anna's strict views on transgression and penance are baffling to April; for Claire, Anna remains the embodiment of her ruined marriage.
"With cinematic detail and gripping momentum, Upcountry tells the story of women affected by economic inequality, religious extremism, illness, and despair, counterbalanced by their inner strength and a spirit of resiliency. The cataclysmic intertwining of these three women's lives — painful but also redemptive — surprised, challenged, and captivated me." Polly Rosenwaike, author of Look How Happy I'm Making You
"Propulsive and prismatic, Upcountry is an unflinching look at the thin but taut line between faith and disillusionment, poverty and plenty, the will to live and the pull of oblivion. Chin-Sun Lee is a dazzling storyteller. I could not put this novel down." Tsering Yangzom Lama, author of The Carol Shields Prize longlisted We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies
"Three women, all living in the gossipy hothouse of a small town in upstate New York, but with such differing socio-economic, romantic and religious lives that they might as well exist on different planets. Forced together by neighborly cruelty and a natural calamity, Chin-Sun Lee's distinct and memorable characters become representative of an American maelstrom of contemporary ills — drug abuse, income inequality, incarceration, climate change. Strange, searing, and powerfully written, Upcountry, is a riveting debut." Helen Schulman, author of Lucky Dogs
"Upcountry is a novel of remarkable depth and insight into the human condition, and the ways in which luck, class, and circumstance shape individuals' destinies. Chin-Sun Lee's characters are tasked with picking up the pieces and trying again, using the tools they have to create a life that feels worth living. This is a novel that isn't afraid of delving into the dark aspects of human nature, and how a small community can both nurture and destroy its inhabitants. Gripping, compassionate, and gorgeously written, Upcountry has the power to haunt." Kate Folk, author of Out There
About the Author
Chin-Sun Lee is the youngest child of North Korean exiles, both
her parents having fled their native provinces for Seoul at the outset of
the Korean War. After a long career in fashion design, she earned an
MFA in Creative Writing at The New School in New York. Her work
has appeared in The Rumpus, Joyland, Your Impossible Voice, The
Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and The Believer Logger, among other
publications. She's also a contributor to the New York Times bestselling
anthology Women in Clothes (Blue Rider Press/Penguin 2014) and has
participated in the Blood Jet and Lady Fest Reading Series in New
Orleans, the Franklin Park, Earshot, and Renegade Reading Series in
Brooklyn, and the inaugural Riverviews Artspace event in Lynchburg.
She currently lives in New Orleans, working on her second novel.
Upcountry is her debut.