Thurm is a woman whose work has been praised so often and by so many sources that there is little more one needs to add. This is her eleventh book. Concerning the first ten, two had major reviews in the New York Times Book Review. The Clairvoyant, her sixth book, was reviewed there on October 5, 1997, and her tenth, Today Is Not Your Day was reviewed on October 4, 2015 and was also named an Editor’s Choice pick. Given this impressive track record we were delighted that she submitted this latest novel to us. October has been a good month for her at the Times, and I hope that April will prove equally hospitable. With that, I turn you over to Marian.
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“As the author of eleven books of fiction, I’ve often been asked if I’ve ever done research for any of my novels. Well, let’s see: for my novel about a clairvoyant, I spent a handful of hours in the company of a couple of professional psychics. For a novel about a college student from New York who finds herself in a very small town in Kansas, I convinced my husband and son to accompany me on a road trip to a very small town in Kansas. All of this research proved to be both interesting and illuminating, but none of it made my heart beat any harder or took away my appetite for lunch. But when I began writing The Good Life, I realized that one of the most important things I needed to do was feel the weight of a loaded pistol in my hands. This was going to be a dark book—a fiercely dark book—the sort of novel that would eventually be described by Kirkus Reviews as a “pitch-dark emotional thriller.” And, in fundamental ways, it was going to be different from my other books, all of them literary fiction that never once featured a 9 mm semiautomatic Glock in the hands of any of its characters.
“Arriving at a shooting range in Pennsylvania, the nearest state to my New York City home that didn’t require a license to fire a handgun, I found myself waiting in line with a roomful of gun enthusiasts, including 10-year-old boys dressed in combat fatigues accompanied by their younger sisters and parents, all of them chitchatting casually and clearly eager to get in a little target practice this particular weekend. Not me. I was already starting to feel queasy, and wanted nothing more than to climb into our car and hightail it back to our apartment in Manhattan (the one filled with so many, many books, that my husband and I were reduced to storing some of them under the coffee table in the living room and under our bed). And speaking of books, the problem I was facing that Sunday in 2012 was that I wouldn’t be able to write my new one unless I actually went through with this gun business and held that Glock in my small, increasingly sweaty hands.
“My husband and I waited our turn in line for a half hour or so and then stepped up to the counter, where we were handed a Glock (which we were shown how to load ourselves) and a pair of headphones to cushion our ears from the sound of gunfire. I was already feeling sick with the worst kind of anticipation—the kind that requires a Xanax or two—and when we reached our assigned lane at the pistol range a minute later, I had to remind myself that this was all about my novel, the novel I felt so deeply invested in even though I’d only begun work on it a couple of months earlier.
“Lifting the gun into my hands for the first time, I was surprised at the heft of it, and intensely aware of the thudding of my cowardly heart. I took my place at the firing line and pulled the trigger, shocked at both the violence of the kickback and the sound of the bullet exploding out of the barrel. It was a profoundly visceral moment for me, leaving my hands trembling. Call me a wuss, but there was nothing thrilling about any of it; all I felt was horror, thinking of this 9mm pistol and the grievous harm it could bring to anyone in the path of its bullets.
“One shot and I’d had enough. “I’m done!” I announced to no one in particular, and the man in the next firing lane laughed at me. “You’re just like my wife,” he said. Obviously this was not a compliment, but I wasn’t the least bit insulted.
“A few days later, working on the darkest scene in my novel—the darkest scene I’d ever composed in the nearly 40 years I’ve been a published writer—I was close to tears. This had never happened to me before and I doubt it will ever happen again in the writing of another book. But each time I read the scene, which of course I had to do over and over again as I kept reworking the novel, I felt the same anguish, the same queasiness. These characters of mine were as real to me as if they had flesh-and-blood lives beyond the page, and I couldn’t bear to hurt them.
“And yet I had to, because that was the story I needed to tell.”
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As always, I hope you will post your comments on this website. If you want to reach Marian directly you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMING NEXT WEEK a blog from Ira Gold, author of Debasements of Brooklyn, whose droll first mystery featuring two original and memorable characters, is due in June, and has already been purchased by Blackstone Audiobooks.