Friday, November 18, 2011

What is Nancy Jensen reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Nancy Jensen, author of The Sisters.

Her entry begins:
A few years ago I read Rosemary Ashton’s George Eliot: A Life. As literary biographies go, this is a good one, exhaustively researched, smart, and well-written, but I recall only a single detail from the book with clarity. In a letter to her friend Charles Bray, Eliot describes a typical day in the home she shared with George Lewes: “[We] are happier every day—writing hard, walking hard, reading Homer and science and rearing tadpoles. I read aloud for about three hours every evening.... We breakfast at ½ past 8, read to ourselves till 10, write till ½ past 1, walk till nearly 4, and dine at 5, regretting each day as it goes.”

The letter has stayed with me out of the pure power of envy. How could any serious writer not long for such a life? It’s a life, of course, that requires a stable, independent income to fill in the gaps that Eliot’s and Lewes’ modest writing income couldn’t fill—a life with ill-paid servants busy in the background making the beds, washing the clothes, preparing the meals, sweeping the hall, running the errands. I try not to think about the servants, because the sensibilities born from my American working class background recoil from the idea, but still I linger over the vision of a day that turns on reading, writing, and the long walk conducive to conversation and contemplation.

Alas, my life is nothing like that. Maybe one of these days I’ll earn enough from my writing, consistently enough, to quit my day job, but for now I have to cling to my position as a university professor—and it’s this job that governs most of my choices about what to read. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the books I teach—I do. This semester alone, I’m teaching a course in the family novel, beginning with Sons and Lovers and ending with the just-released Justin Torres novel-in-stories, We the Animals. I’m...[read on]
About The Sisters, from the publisher:
In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.
Learn more about the book and author at Nancy Jensen's website.

Nancy Jensen, who received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, has published stories and essays in numerous literary journals, including The Louisville Review, Other Voices, and Northwest Review. She was awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, and teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University.

My Book, The Movie: The Sisters.

Writers Read: Nancy Jensen.

--Marshal Zeringue