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High Strung: A Novel

High Strung: A Novel

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by Quinn Dalton

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Years after running away from America and the mysteries surrounding her mother's death, Merle Winslow winds up editing trash novels at X Publishing in West London and shacked up with a drug-addled diplomat's son. Shaky and defeated, she heads home to Florence, Ohio, with no money and no idea of what to do next.

Meanwhile, Merle discovers that her brother Olin,


Years after running away from America and the mysteries surrounding her mother's death, Merle Winslow winds up editing trash novels at X Publishing in West London and shacked up with a drug-addled diplomat's son. Shaky and defeated, she heads home to Florence, Ohio, with no money and no idea of what to do next.

Meanwhile, Merle discovers that her brother Olin, rich and successful from marketing Marilyn Monroe meat thermometers, is poised to embark on a dubious performance art career, and that her stodgy father might be falling in love after years of living alone. As Merle looks for clues about her mother's life she uncovers disturbing new truths about her own romantic failings. She suspects she's never really escaped her old life; she's simply dragged it along with her, "like an outfit that was ill-fitting and too revealing, but impossible to get rid of." But with the help of her tough-talking grandmother, free-spirited brother, and a pilot who nurses a failing plane, Merle finally begins to face her family's checkered past and her own uncertain future.

In vivid cinematic prose, High Strung balances humor on the rough edge of loss, regret, and wounded family love. Merle is an unforgettable creation in an exhilarating debut novel from a young writer to watch.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A belated coming-of-ager about a woman in her 30s who returns home to Florence, Ohio, after a stint abroad to confront her family's not-very-secret secrets. After Merle Winslow's mother Joannie dies in a car accident, 13-year-old Merle and her younger brother Olin are raised by their father Ernest and grandmother Lettie. At 18, Merle discovers that her mother was with a lover when she died. She stews over this information for four years before running off to England, where she hooks up with the decadent son of a British diplomat and works in the pornography-publishing business. The story opens ten years later, when Merle returns to Florence after her boyfriend proposes a sexual deviation beyond her limit. Back in Ohio, she finds that Olin, after a successful career in marketing, is now trying to become a stand-up comic, while Ernest has a new fiancé very different from Joannie-and Lettie is still feisty and difficult the way cute grandmothers in a novel of this sort always are. Soon Merle has met, through Lettie, a good-looking pilot named Frank. While Merle's story is predictable and her "high-strung" zaniness kind of bland, the flashbacks to Ernest and Joannie's romance have genuine resonance. The two meet in the '60s in Oklahoma, where he studies unsuccessfully to be an engineer and she's a precocious 17-year-old working at her father's cheap motel. Both desperately unhappy, they cling to each other and elope, but, back in Florence, their marriage takes a major hit when Joannie and baby Merle are photographed outside the site of a student bombing at the local college where Ernest works. Although Joannie wasn't actually involved in the bombing, Ernest loses his job and Joannie begins todrink. Unfortunately, Dalton doesn't focus on them long enough once the marriage's dissolution sets in, and readers are stuck with Merle and her inevitable happy ending. Pleasant narrative, but a first novel even so that lacks any punch.

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Washington Square Press
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Meet the Author

Quinn Dalton's stories have appeared in literary magazines such as StoryQuarterly, Glimmer Train, and The Kenyon Review. She is the winner of the Pearl 2002 Fiction Prize for the story "Back on Earth." She lives with her husband and daughter in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is her first novel. You can visit the author at her website quinndalton.com

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High Strung 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book caught me from the first page until the last page. I read every word. I will look for this author to write more books. What a great book for a first book! I am mature and a picky reader, and this was a book I couldn't put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
High Strung is terrific. Quinn Dalton's charaters are funny and funky and freaky to boot. When I first started reading, I recommended it to my daughters and their friends because I thought the young nail-biting character, Merle, would resonate with them. As I read on, I saw that it is also a book for those of us baby boomers who tried with varying degrees of success to make a difference in the world. The book makes you think about the personal cost of taking a stand and the greater cost of hiding on the sidelines. Definitely a great read, I can't wait for more from Quinn Dalton.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Dalton's story of an exhausted, at-the-end-of-her-rope woman giving it up and going back to the beginning to sort things out. I dog-eared pages--'That was the way he was: unfaillingly concerned for the poor, the underrepresented, the lonely, but somehow tuned out from the people closest to him.' A distanced heart--well, that is what Merle is doing...closing the distances that will kill us if we don't overcome them. 'but of course I had just taken my old life with me, like an outfit that was ill-fitting and too revealing, but stuck to my back.' And 'We had cheated ourselves with everything we had decided not to know.' Ah. Dalton's Merle is working her way from the center of fallout of a decade of full fledged flight from home and family. Her decision to return home, to ask the questions and come to terms with the answers, is a lesson in overcoming, a blessing in its story of incremental successes of a maimed but perservering family. Dalton mines the energy of a good mad and delivers her goods on the edge of humor that makes heartbreak bearable in the moment. The wedding scene is lovely, funny medicine for long-suffering guests who submit to Cinderella-events programmed by polyester brides and grooms without a hint of a clue about life in the real lane. Find it! Read it! Laugh. And cry when you find thirteen-year old Merle shadowing as a thirty year old, again asking questions, finally able to bear the answers, to move beyond the pain and on into life. Jessica Williams Walkertown, NC
Guest More than 1 year ago
With her debut novel, Quinn Dalton has wrote has some excellent prose. Trailing the life of a woman with so many questions about life and love and opportunity. I highly recommend this book, it's witty and exciting prose is something to definitely read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
More and more are we high strung, for the world inevitably closes in on us as it 'gets smaller,' as we're now fond of saying. Quinn Dalton nails this condition with her character Merle and with Merle's surroundings, whether Ohio or London. As life grows more hectic and uncertain, it necessarily becomes more comical, if we only allow ourselves to see the humor; Dalton possesses an innate gift for this, which she masterfully conveys through her prose. After so many years of working side by side with her boyfriend in a pornography publishing house in London, Merle realizes that the life she has been leading cannot be hers: 'I knew that I had to go home the day Terence told me about the swinging ferry. It was 7:00 A.M. and he was leaning against my clinking radiator, which we were still using even though it was mid-April, the windows misted wet, Terence smoking one of his hashish cigarettes, eyes glassy, dark red hair wreathed in yellow smoke.  He was wearing his favorite turquoise ultrasuede trousers, silver- tipped Converses, and a gray jersey with a pink flower embroidered on the left breast.'  While it would be wrong to disclose exactly what a swinging ferry is, we can peek at Merle's anxiety dream that night, in which she and Terence were driving up the street of her childhood home in America, 'except we were driving up the wrong side of the road.  I was in the backseat, being chauffered by Terence, who turned full around to talk with me, ignoring oncoming traffic.  I ducked and screamed, waving at him to turn around.  And then the bugs appeared.  Big, brightly colored jelly bugs like my father's fishing lures, climbing the half-rolled-down windows, crawling in.  In his sleep, Terence turned over in my bed and brushed my shoulder, and I lurched sideways, whacking my head against the dresser.' Of course, since our lives are stories, threads often woven without our conscious assent, they also vibrate with all the other trappings Shakespeare would happily point out to us: political intrigue, placement (or displacement) in history, tragedy, humility, the grace to keep moving forward and discover meaning amidst chaos.  As a small plane's engine fails during a horse- sperm delivery, a marriage proposal is given as the narrator flashes to her mother's car-crash death and her father's maneuvering--when he was a child--the tractor that his own father lost control of as he was dying.  So many angles are taken into account in Dalton's novel, reminding us that we all play essential instruments in a cosmic symphony, essential even when some of these instruments happen to be high strung.
Guest More than 1 year ago