"Fans of Jeffrey Eugenides or Tatiana de Rosnay will appreciate her ability to capture the spirit of a time and place while asking serious social questions. However politically minded, though, this poignant and stirring novel is at its root a moving and passionate love story." —Booklist
An American Tune: A Novelby Barbara Shoup
While reluctantly accompanying her husband and daughter to freshman orientation at Indiana University, Nora Quillen hears someone call her name, a name she has not heard in more than 25 years. Not even her husband knows that back in the ‘60s she was Jane Barth, a student deeply involved in the antiwar movement. An American Tune moves back and forth in time,… See more details below
While reluctantly accompanying her husband and daughter to freshman orientation at Indiana University, Nora Quillen hears someone call her name, a name she has not heard in more than 25 years. Not even her husband knows that back in the ‘60s she was Jane Barth, a student deeply involved in the antiwar movement. An American Tune moves back and forth in time, telling the story of Jane, a girl from a working-class family who fled town after she was complicit in a deadly bombing, and Nora, the woman she became, a wife and mother living a quiet life in northern Michigan. An achingly poignant account of a family crushed under the weight of suppressed truths, An American Tune illuminates the irrevocability of our choices and how those choices come to compose the tune of our lives.
"Some writers have a gift for creating cozy scenes and comfortable locales despite a larger context of unease and violence. In her new novel An American Tune, Barbara Shoup accomplishes this..." —Foreword Reviews
"The story of Jane and Nora—and what happens when these two lives converge—held me in great suspense. This highly readable novel isn’t afraid to talk liberal politics during wartime, nor is it afraid to tell an epic love story. I loved everything about Barb Shoup’s An American Tune.
" —Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
"An American Tune is about the '60s but it's about now, too. It's about a mother finding herself in her daughter, for better and for worse, and it's about generations of women forever realizing that even though we try our best to prevent them, our children were born to make their own mistakes. Nora will become your honest-to-God best friend because she reminds us of where we've been, what we're doing, and what we are looking for." —Margaret McMullan, author of In My Mother's House and When Warhol Was Still Alive
"Barbara Shoup has written a rich and timely story about one generation’s outrage and the long reverberations of secrets. Her plot has much to say about the tangle of responsibility and how an ill-advised war disrupts an intricate network of ordinary American lives. A striking and memorable novel warm, sage, and beautifully written." —Joan Silber, novelist and National Book Award finalist for Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories
"[Shoup] is a wonderful writer with an amazing story to tell to those of us who have been fumbling along trying to gain perspective on a signal moment in our own history. Hers is the first account, in my opinion, that understands the combination of the extraordinary and the banal that characterized the antiwar movement, and yet she's never didactic. The extraordinary and the banal coexist in the seminal moments of any generation, of course, but to those of us who became adults during the Vietnam War years it is still surprising to remember over and over again how self-absorbed, how trivial we were while also making profound decisions." —Robb Forman Dew, author of the novels Dale Loves Sophie to Death, The Time of Her Life, and Fortunate Lives, as well as a memoir, The Family Heart
"It's an ordinary day until a man calls your name, a man from the life you've tried your best to leave behind. Suddenly, anything can happen. Such is the case in Barbara Shoup's engaging new novel, An American Tune. A story that comes from the heartland and from the heart. I cared about these characters as if they were my own family members. What a moving story of what it is to long for the person you once were, set against the backdrop of political unrest both then and now.
" —Lee Martin, author of Break the Skin and The Bright Forever
"Barbara Shoup's An American Tune is an elegant, moving, finely written page-turner that reaffirms and makes fresh again Faulkner's assertion that the past is never dead; it's not even past." —Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home
"An American Tune kept me on the edge of my seat while at the same time wanting to savor the evocative, memorable and true sentences along with way. Barbara Shoup’s exasperating yet loveable characters felt so real that I longed to lure them into my kitchen for a cup of coffee so I could spend more time with them. Shoup brings the Sixties back to life with wry humor and sympathy, reminding us all the while that we have never left its shadow. A haunting, powerful book. I loved it.
" —Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
"Shoup vividly captures the excitement of a teenager's first few months on a college campus and also evokes the currents of counterculture eddying and surging through Indiana University in the mid-to late 1960s." —Bloom Magazine
" Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
"[Shoup] is a wonderful writer with an amazing story to tell to those of us who have been fumbling along trying to gain perspective on a signal moment in our own history. Hers is the first account, in my opinion, that understands the combination of the extraordinary and the banal that characterized the antiwar movement, and yet she's never didactic. The extraordinary and the banal coexist in the seminal moments of any generation, of course, but to those of us who became adults during the Vietnam War years it is still surprising to remember over and over again how self-absorbed, how trivial we were while also making profound decisions." Robb Forman Dew, author of the novels Dale Loves Sophie to Death, The Time of Her Life, and Fortunate Lives, as well as a memoir, The Family Heart
"Fans of Jeffrey Eugenides or Tatiana de Rosnay will appreciate her ability to capture the spirit of a time and place while asking serious social questions. However politically minded, though, this poignant and stirring novel is at its root a moving and passionate love story." Booklist
"Barbara Shoup's An American Tune is an elegant, moving, finely written page-turner that reaffirms and makes fresh again Faulkner's assertion that the past is never dead; it's not even past." Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home
It was a pleasure to read this novel.Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
"Shoup's novel is most compelling in its historical portrayal of university life in the turbulent 1960s..." Library Journal
"The story of Jane and Noraand what happens when these two lives convergeheld me in great suspense. This highly readable novel isn’t afraid to talk liberal politics during wartime, nor is it afraid to tell an epic love story. I loved everything about Barb Shoup’s An American Tune.
" Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
"An American Tune is about the '60s but it's about now, too. It's about a mother finding herself in her daughter, for better and for worse, and it's about generations of women forever realizing that even though we try our best to prevent them, our children were born to make their own mistakes. Nora will become your honest-to-God best friend because she reminds us of where we've been, what we're doing, and what we are looking for." Margaret McMullan, author of In My Mother's House and When Warhol Was Still Alive
"Some writers have a gift for creating cozy scenes and comfortable locales despite a larger context of unease and violence. In her new novel An American Tune, Barbara Shoup accomplishes this..." Foreword Reviews
Read an Excerpt
An American Tune
By Barbara Shoup
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2012 Barbara Shoup
All rights reserved.
"Turn, Turn, Turn"
"Is that the college, honey?" her mother asked, as they turned off the highway toward Bloomington and a big limestone structure came into view.
"Mom, Jeez. That's the football stadium."
Jane's father gave a sharp glance to the back seat, but her mother just chattered on. "Janey, do you have the map? Do you know where we're going?"
Jane said the name of her dorm and her mother listened, pointing out street signs, as Jane read from the directions that had been included in her housing packet. It was Mrs. Barth's way not to acknowledge bad behavior but, instead, respond to the rudeness with exaggerated politeness that made Jane simultaneously furious and ashamed. The truth was, Jane didn't know much more about college than her mother did. She had set her heart on it long ago, in the first grade when the thrill of words revealing themselves, unlocking stories, had made her decide she would be a teacher when she grew up. But now that it was actually happening, she felt half-sick with dread. She'd never been away from home, except for overnights with friends and one miserable week at church camp when she was twelve. What if she got homesick? What if she hated her roommate – or worse, her roommate hated her? What if her roommate was rich, and Jane was embarrassed by all she didn't have? The five dollars allowance her mother had promised to send every week would cover only the barest expenses, and it would be awful to add embarrassment to the mix of guilt and resentment she knew she'd feel every time she opened up the envelope and found it here.
She should have let them talk her into going to the university extension at home, she thought, where most of the people from her high school went if they were ambitious enough to want to go to college. She should have been grateful for the opportunity to get any kind of education at all. But she had wanted more, even though she knew going away to college meant that her mother would have to work extra hours at the A&P, where she stood on her feet all day, checking out groceries. Her father would have more cause to stop at the Red Star Tavern each night after work and drink himself quietly, purposefully, into oblivion.
It had been a quiet, awkward trip, the air heavy with all they did not know how to say. Still, Jane felt the weight of her parents' love for her when her father turned the radio to a station that played the music she liked without her having to ask, and in her mother's determined cheerfulness, in the way she fussed over whether Jane had remembered to bring the stamps she'd bought for her and the roll of quarters for her washing. Her sisters, Amy and Susan, huddled near her in the back seat the whole way. Twelve and thirteen, they were sweet, spindly girls with white-blond hair. They'd learned muteness, too. Her brother, Bobby, had simply avoided the situation. When everything was loaded and they were ready to leave, he slid out from underneath the junker he was working on in the driveway, bid Jane a gruff goodbye, then slid right back under it again.
They passed the dorms on Fee Lane and then the new business building, where the street T-ed at the old brick stadium. "Okay, turn left here," Jane said, and they passed more dorms, a little shopping area. "Now right. That's it, there. The first tall one."
There were cars parked every which way, their trunks open. Suitcases, stereos, bicycles scattered on the sidewalk. Skateboarders clattered down the little hill from the dining hall: tanned girls in raggedy cut-off wheat jeans, their long hair flying, dodging frantic parents giving last-minute instructions to daughters who, momentarily, would be free do whatever they pleased.
Jane left her family standing on the sidewalk and, trying to look confident, headed toward the registration table to get her room assignment and pick up her key. There were signs welcoming the new freshmen and student guides to offer help and advice. One of them, a girl named Cindy, guided Jane through registration, then snagged a rolling luggage cart and followed to help unload her belongings.
She was tongue-tied by the girl's friendly questions about her hometown, her major, her hobbies, embarrassed by the inept introduction she made when they reached her family. Transferring her things from the car to the luggage cart, she was acutely aware of what the other girls had: typewriters; stereos and crates of albums; hooded hair-dryers, like the ones in beauty shops; and racks of Villager outfits. Her suitcase was a graduation gift, so brand-new that Cindy could probably tell from looking at it that she'd never been anywhere. If so, she didn't mention it, just chattered on about what a great place this was and how Jane was sure to love it, until she deposited them all at the elevators and moved on to her next good deed.
In the crush of new students and their parents waiting for the elevators, Jane and her family stood in the silence she had left.
"Jane." Amy tugged her sleeve. "Is your room on top?"
"It's on nine," she said. "Pretty close."
"There's eleven," Susan said. "I counted the rows of windows."
"Then can we go to eleven?" Amy asked. "Mom, can we go up and see what it's like at the top?"
A suntanned, freckled girl with long red hair, turned and smiled at her. "You can go all the way up to the roof, if your mom will let you. It's really cool. There's a big wall and you can look over it. You can see the whole campus from there."
"We'll see," Mrs. Barth murmured, before Amy could open her mouth. It was what she always said when she didn't want to say "no" in front of strangers.
The girl shook her hair away from her face and gave Jane a wicked grin. She got off on the ninth floor, too, and Jane watched her hurry off, then disappear into a room near the end of the corridor. She started down the hall, her dad pushing the luggage cart, her mom and sisters following.
"Here it is." She stopped before the closed door of 907. Taped to it was a sign, decorated with little red and white IU symbols that said "Jane Barth & Karen Conklin Live Here."
She placed her key in the lock, took a deep breath, and smiled, preparing to confront her roommate for the first time. But, although Karen had moved in, claimed a bed, a closet, and one of the two built-in desks on either side of the window, she wasn't there.
"Dear Jane," said the note pinned to the bulletin board. "As you can see, I went ahead and put my stuff away when I got here. But if you'd rather have a different desk or whatever, I'd be glad to trade. I've gone out with my boyfriend and won't be back until this evening. I look forward to meeting you then. Karen."
"Well, she's thoughtful," Jane's mother said, reading over her shoulder. "That's something, isn't it? I guess we'll be gone, though, by the time she gets back."
She sounded so wistful and, glancing at her, Jane understood, suddenly, that her mother could not imagine what her life would be like in this place. The truth was, she couldn't imagine it either, and she wished she had the courage to say this to her mother, to admit how scared she was that she'd feel lost and alone in this new life she'd been so insistent upon. No happier than she had been in high school. But she did not. Instead, she let her mother fuss over her, pretended to care which drawer was best for her nightgowns, which for her socks and underwear. Listened, again, to her instructions about laundry and assured her that she had every single thing she needed. When, finally, there was nothing left to do, she walked her family back down the corridor to the elevator and waited, zombie-like, for the moment it would open, swallow them up, and carry them away.
Alone in her dorm room, Jane studied the prom picture on her roommate's bookshelf. Even in a formal dress, Karen looked, well, average. Brown hair turned up in a flip, brown eyes. Jane could see in the way she smiled up at her boyfriend that she was the kind of girl who made up for not being pretty by being attentive.
He liked her a lot, in any case. Jane saw that in the way he smiled back at her. He was cute. And a baseball player, too, which she knew because there was a framed picture of him in his baseball uniform.
Karen's high school yearbook was shelved next to her new dictionary, and Jane opened it to the Class of 1965. There she was, the same smile in place, her hair in the same perfect flip she wore on prom night. Karen Conklin: Pep Club (1–4), French Club (1–4), Class Secretary (3, 4), Rotary Scholar.
Not too intimidating, Jane thought. Then she checked out the closet and was relieved to find that, although Karen had more clothes than she did, they weren't particularly stylish. She had a typewriter, which Jane hoped she might be able to borrow sometimes, a stereo, and a stack of albums – Johnny Mathis, Herb Alpert, Barbara Streisand, the first Beatles album. Not Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones. She had a box of scented pink stationery, a makeup bag with tons more makeup than Jane was used to wearing herself – every color of eye shadow, pale lipsticks, and that thick foundation you put on your face with a sponge. There was a white leather Bible with her name imprinted on the front in gold, set on the table beside her bed.
Jane whirled around, blushing, and saw the girl with the red hair standing in the doorway. She grinned that same wicked grin, then came right on in and plunked down on Karen's desk chair. "Hey, don't feel bad. I snooped my roommate, too. I'm Bridget Kelly, by the way. 920. You're Jane, right?"
"So, what do you think?"
She laughed at Jane's blank expression. "About Karen," she said. "Your roommate? The one whose stuff you were just pawing through? Tell the truth or I'll tell her I caught you mooning over the picture of her boyfriend."
This was so obviously not a real threat that Jane burst out laughing. "She looks a little ... perky," she said. "That scares me."
"Exactly what I thought when I spied on her moving in. I've been nosing around all day, checking people out." Bridget rolled her eyes. "Mr. Get Up and Get Going, that's the Judge. My dad. We left Evansville at five. He and my mom were on their way home by noon. No big deal to them. I'm the last of five kids – all girls. And me a mistake, if you want to know the truth of it. No kidding! My oldest sister, Kathleen, has a kid in junior high. Anyhow, my parents are used to all this. Not to mention ready for a little peace and quiet. We got my stuff unloaded and they were gone. Not that I had any problem with that. Man, I've been waiting for this moment ever since we brought Kath here when I was six."
She smiled. "Your little sisters will probably be the same way. Right now, they're probably thinking, I can't wait to grow up and go back there by myself and go up on the roof any damn time I want. That's why I came down. To see if you wanted to go check it out."
"Sure. Okay," Jane said.
They took the stairs, passing the doors to the tenth and eleventh floors to the one that opened out onto the roof, where a dozen or so girls were sunbathing. Jane blinked in the bright sunlight, thrilled by the sudden warmth of the sun on her skin, the scent of Coppertone, the music on a half dozen transistor radios drifting up into the air. Joining Bridget at the wall, she took a tentative look outward, and stepped back, breathless, at the sight of the campus spread out before them like a map of itself.
Later, after they showered and ate their first meal in the dining hall, they walked out into it, toward the Student Union, which Bridget said her sisters had told her was the place where the fraternity boys would come that night to check out the new crop of freshman girls.
They walked along a wooded path that ran aside a creek, which Bridget said was called the "Jordan River." Jane could see some of the old classroom buildings, limestone with leaded windows, and they seemed perfect to her – just like college ought to look. They emerged at Ballantine Hall, where Bridget said some of their classes would be, passed a pretty little stone chapel, where her sister, Colleen, had married in June.
"Not a Catholic wedding," she said, sternly. Then laughed.
The Union building looked like a castle to Jane, all peaks and turrets. They entered through an arched doorway and walked along the gleaming corridors, past a bakery and the bookstore to the Commons, where everyone hung out. It was packed, every table taken. But Jane and Bridget went through the line anyway, got Cokes and fries, and a table opened up as they emerged with their trays. They sipped their Cokes, mesmerized by the conversations buzzing all around them, the shouts of greeting, the hugs and even tears as friends reconnected after the long summer.
"Jane! Don't look right this second," Bridget whispered. "But there's this blond guy behind you. He's so cute. And he's with this good friend of mine from home. Okay. Now. He's talking to the girl wearing the pink culottes –"
Jane glanced back and knew instantly which boy she meant. He was built like a swimmer, compact and lean, his floppy blond hair streaked by the sun, his mischievous blue eyes full of light. His left arm was in a sling, his wrist wrapped in an ace bandage; there was a huge, painful-looking scrape on his right elbow. As Jane subtly shifted her chair for a better view, he slipped his arm from the sling, bent his legs and held his hands out in a surfer's stance.
"I kid you not," she heard him say. "Fifty miles an hour down that hill on my skateboard. No doubt. And a goddamn little kid comes tottering onto the sidewalk and I jump the curb to avoid him and totally lose it – and what does his mom do? Give me crap for being a bad example."
The girl laughed.
"Hey," he said, reinserting his arm into the sling. "It's a serious injury, man. Major sprain. Plus, it's my writing hand." He grinned. "I need a scribe, so I'm signing up for whatever Gilbert's taking."
"Sucker," the girl said, elbowing the boy standing beside him.
He shrugged and smiled.
"That guy he's with," Bridget whispered. "He's my friend. Tom Gilbert."
He was stocky, with dark, curly hair cropped short. Brown eyes. Out of her league, Jane knew. She glanced at him a second time and blushed, realizing he was looking at her. He smiled, but she turned away as if she hadn't noticed him. Don't, she thought. But of course Bridget waved and gestured him over to their table when the girl they had been talking to went on her way.
"Hey, Bridge." He pulled a chair over and sat down. "What's up? Who's your friend?"
Bridget introduced them, then to Jane's relief chattered on about moving in to the dorm and other people from home she'd already run into. From the corner of her eye, Jane watched the blond boy, who'd fed some quarters into the jukebox and was now flipping through the music charts, pushing buttons. When "Wooly Bully" started to play, he turned, zeroed in on Tom, and headed their way. Pete was his name.
"What happened to you," Bridget asked when Tom introduced him, then listened, rapt, as he told the story they'd just overheard. She batted her eyelashes at him. "You poor thing," she said. "You need a nurse and a scribe."
"Job's open." Pete sat down beside her.
Boldly, Jane thought, Bridget took his bandaged hand and examined it. "I actually can do this," she said. "Wrap, I mean. I took a first aid class at the Y. For life guarding." She grinned. "You have no idea how talented I am."
"Yeah?" Pete grinned back. "Can you dance?"
Bridget gave her beautiful red hair a shake. "Tom," she said. "Tell him."
"She can dance," Tom said.
"Excellent," Pete said. "Party tomorrow night. Sig house. Want to come?"
"I'd love to," Bridget said.
Into the sudden, awkward silence that followed, Tom said, "Jane?"
"Of course, Jane's going," Bridget said.
"Do you want to?" Tom asked.
"Sure," Jane said, trying to sound nonchalant. "Yeah, okay."
She was mortified when, entering the dorm lobby the next afternoon, she saw him picking up the telephone – to call another girl, she assumed; one he actually liked – and she took a step backward, hoping to avoid him.
But he saw her and put down the receiver. "Jane! Hey, I came over to make sure about tonight. Bridget can be so –" Then, surprising her, he blushed. "I just wanted to make sure you really wanted to come to the party."
"I do," Jane said.
"Good. Well, then. Seven."
He grinned, offered his hand; they shook.
And he was gone.
Jane stood for a long while, still feeling the warmth of his palm against hers, elated, a little afraid to know that he had come in search of her.
Excerpted from An American Tune by Barbara Shoup. Copyright © 2012 Barbara Shoup. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >