As always, the ten novel openings featured in this issue of Embark were selected without reference to each other and represent a wide range of themes, styles, plots, and settings. While reading them, I was struck not only by the high quality of the openings themselves but also by the insights and thought-provoking ideas offered in the Authors’ Statements, which provide intriguing glimpses into the writing process and the many aims and motivations behind it.
Kit Carmichael, in SECOND SONS, presents an absorbing tale set in Victorian England: two men of different classes, affianced to a pair of sisters, slowly realize that they are more interested in each other than in their betrotheds. In her Author’s Statement, Carmichael cogently argues that queer historical romance must of necessity be radical, since its characters can rarely, if ever, attain the traditional happily-ever-after of matrimony.
Exploring an era several centuries earlier, Dana Sonnenschein in LADY MACBETH, HER BOOK offers a gripping portrayal of Shakespeare’s character, reimagined as a stubborn, shrewd young Scottish woman who is seeking independence in a violent masculine world. In her Author’s Statement, Sonnenschein describes her experiences as a literature professor and the great appeal in novelistic portrayals of Shakespearean characters.
In UNEQUAL TEMPERAMENT, Cheryl Walsh introduces another engaging and ambitious woman, one living in modern-day Iowa—a harpsichordist and meteorologist who is struggling to come to terms with her beloved father’s death and her own lost opportunities. Walsh’s Author’s Statement illustrates the process by which longer stories can grow out of smaller ones, and how authors create multi-layered and complex narratives.
Pierce Scranton, in the opening of THE MAN IN THE CAGE, portrays two fierce characters, a young pregnant woman abandoned by the man she trusted and then her son, who grows up with brittle-bone disease and battles for independence and connection. In his Author’s Statement, Scranton describes his own changing attitude toward this character’s story, as he gradually decided to frame it not as a tragedy but as a narrative of indomitable will.
In BABY GOLDMAN, Pamela Gwyn Kripke begins with a chilling tale of parents in the 1930s who lose their newborn son. Decades later, Kripke’s protagonist, a young girl, learns that her uncle died inexplicably in the hospital soon after his birth. This menacing story follows Kate into adulthood and her own experience of motherhood, inspiring a search into the past. In her Author’s Statement, Kripke explores how truth and repression can resonate over generations.
STEEL WORK, a novel by Sara McAulay with enticing undertones of California noir, introduces us to Liza, a skilled steel-worker with a tragic past. Liza distracts herself from her own grief by plunging into another woman’s quest for a long-lost husband, who may or may not be Liza’s missing assistant. In her Author’s Statement, McAulay describes her interest as a writer in loss and grief, and in the many convoluted ways that people try to cope.
Sometimes novel openings, intriguing in themselves, pave the way for further surprises. HOOPS, by Maggie Hill, begins with a family visiting the oldest son at Sing Sing prison. Hill deftly lays out the complicated dynamics within the family and establishes Claire, the narrator, as an observant, wary teenager. Then, in her Author’s Statement, she reveals that the novel primarily focuses on the trials and triumphs of women’s basketball in the 1970s.
In UNDER THE HILL, Louise Charewicz describes with enchanting vividness a man returning to Northern Ireland and encountering there not only his father and stepbrother but troubling memories of his mother, who disappeared years earlier from the garden behind the family’s antiques shop. Only in Charewicz’s Author’s Statement do we discover that the novel’s main theme is the faery mythology of Ireland, and that the protagonist’s mother was taken by the “other folk.”
CRAZY LIKE HEAVEN, by Regina Sokas, introduces a feisty, beguiling young narrator named Pandora and the person she’s addressing, her beloved friend Jo, who has been murdered before the novel begins. These two outsiders found shelter together in Baltimore after surviving abuse and sexual assault. In her Author’s Statement, Sokas explains that she was inspired to write the story after working with assault survivors in her therapy practice.
Jody Gerbig, in the ominous thriller TAKE CARE, portrays a social worker struggling with the ever-mounting challenges of new motherhood, and then with the nightmare of being suspected in a murder case that her husband may also be connected with. In her Author’s Statement, Gerbig reveals that, when writing the novel, she drew on her own experiences of postpartum depression and the terrifying responsibilities of becoming a parent.
As you peruse these ten disparate and immersive openings, make sure to spend time too on the accompanying Author’s Statements, which demonstrate—in a fascinating range of ways—how novelists are inspired, how carefully they craft their work, and how complex and rewarding novel-writing can be. Enjoy!
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
SECOND SONS – Kit Carmichael
UNDER THE HILL – Louise Charewicz
TAKE CARE – Jody Gerbig
HOOPS – Maggie Hill
BABY GOLDMAN – Pamela Gwyn Kripke
STEEL WORK – Sara McAulay
THE MAN IN THE CAGE – Pierce Scranton
CRAZY LIKE HEAVEN – Regina Sokas
LADY MACBETH, HER BOOK – Dana Sonnenschein
UNEQUAL TEMPERAMENT – Cheryl Walsh