Between the Lines: Eating My Words (with a gourmet lunch)

| July 1, 2013 | 0 Comments


Left to right are Alice Lowe, author Jill McCorkle, and Adventures by the Book owner Susan McBeth.

Left to right are Alice Lowe, author Jill McCorkle, and Adventures by the Book owner Susan McBeth.

I was happy to learn that Adventures by the Book was hosting author Jill McCorkle for a May reading and signing. I’ve ranted more than once about west coast book tours that bypass San Diego. Their destinations are Powell’s in Portland and Elliott Bay in Seattle—who can blame them—and if there’s time they swing down to San Francisco and maybe L.A. before heading back east. I don’t want to discount valiant efforts and notable exceptions by Warwick’s and others, so maybe it’s just certain authors, favorites, whose lack of local presence I’ve lamented.

Jill McCorkle has written five novels and four story collections, receiving five New York Times Notable citations, inclusion in the “Best American Short Stories,” and other awards and honors. My favorite is her 2009 story collection, “Going Away Shoes.” I most appreciate her ability to find humor in dire situations, but not at her characters’ expense. Her empathy and keen recognition of the human condition are evident in “Life After Life,” her first novel in 17 years. Described as “a journey through time and memory,” it’s about the residents, staff and neighbors of a retirement home, sharply drawn and often-quirky characters ranging in age from 12 to 85.

I had the opportunity to talk to McCorkle in advance of her visit. Noting that the themes of women and aging appear in her later stories as well as in this novel, she told me that even as a child she was drawn to the elderly. The women and men in her work “have complete lives behind them, and now it’s brand new, having to start in a new place, form new relationships,” said McCorkle. The novel was inspired by her father’s death, and recently her mother entered assisted living after being diagnosed with dementia.

I asked McCorkle about working across genres. She’s least known for essays, although that’s how I discovered her, and she told me that she wants to write more nonfiction now because of her mother’s condition. I asked her preference between novels and stories. She says they work off each other, but she considers herself primarily a novelist. She also teaches creative writing in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

Adventures by the Book, founded and owned by Susan McBeth, offers small, intimate gatherings, usually with a theme that’s carried out by a special meal or venue. Susan used “Life After Life” as an opportunity to call attention to the plight of the elderly by partnering and sharing proceeds with ElderHelp, a nonprofit organization that provides services and programs to seniors. A cozy dozen of us sat around a table in one of ElderHelp’s meeting rooms with gourmet box lunches from Con Pane. After McCorkle read from her book, we had an open and spirited discussion, the kind that would never happen in a large audience.

After another local appearance at Mysterious Galaxy, Jill was heading north to Portland and Seattle. Yes, she came here first! Her book tour started in March and blanketed the south; she also went to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. When I talked to her she was in Atlanta and getting ready to come to California. After her stops in the northwest she would be going to New Orleans on her way home to Hillsborough, North Carolina.

An odd coincidence is that another novel with the same title was released at almost the same time as McCorkle’s. Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” is also outstanding, and the two couldn’t be more different. Atkinson’s is about a woman who lives many lives and dies many deaths; her story is told in varied scenarios. I mention this in case you come across the two and get confused. My recommendation—read them both!

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