Monday, October 13, 2008

Ann Packer

From a Q & A with Ann Packer about her debut novel, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier:

Q: In The Dive From Clausen’s Pier your 23-year-old heroine, Carrie Bell, is torn between whether to stay or go when her fiance? becomes quadriplegic after a terrible accident. It is a coming-of-age story that draws us in immediately to a complex web of moral dilemmas. What made you tackle this tragic subject?

A: That’s a hard question, because it assumes an awareness of why one writes what one writes, and a measure of control over one’s subjects that I don’t think can really exist. I know HOW I began to write The Dive From Clausen’s Pier; that is, I can locate the earliest retrievable moment in the process, which was a phrase I jotted down in my notebook, along the lines of “a woman whose boyfriend is injured in maybe a hunting accident.” Looking back, I can see that I was intrigued by the ambiguities of the situation: he’s her boyfriend, not her husband; he’s injured, not killed. I imagine I was wondering what I’d do if I were this woman, how I’d find a way to live with and understand the choices I’d make.

Getting back to the why, though: I think that’s more complex and perhaps not fully answerable. One of the characters in the book actually speculates about this, or something like it. An aspiring poet, she says, “I think the family IS the artist. Just like the sky is, or all the books you’ve ever read.” I suppose I think, similarly, that a novel—whether “art” or not—is formed because of and by all that has formed its writer: her family, the sky, all the books she’s ever read. In other words, more than can be named. In the case of me and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, I think the family part played a prominent role in the formation of at least one aspect of the book: when I was ten years old, my father had a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body, which is similar to what happens to Mike in the novel. I say this played a prominent role, and yet it’s also the case that I wasn’t thinking about the parallel as I wrote.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about Ann Packer's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue