Poured Over: Alice Elliott Dark on Fellowship Point

“One thing I really have learned—or at least for myself about writing—is never to explain why a person is the way they are, just to make a dramatic case for why they are the way they are. So, the moments I have that are backstory, or that go back and forth in time, it’s because that backstory or that moment of slippage of time is dramatically relevant to the present moment of the story.”

Alice Elliott Dark (In the Gloaming) returns with Fellowship Point, a spectacular novel of friendship and family, love and loss, loyalty and legacy. She joins us on the show to talk about her modern 19th-century novel, where she’s been for the last few years, what we often take for granted when it comes to women’s lives, the craft of writing, her literary influences, what’s next for her and much more with Poured Over’s host, Miwa Messer, live from our flagship store at Union Square in New York City. And we end this episode with TBR Topoff book recommendations from Marc and Becky.

Featured Books (episode):

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

In the Gloaming by Alice Elliott Dark

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Middlemarch by George Eliott

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Featured Books (TBR Topoff):

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg

Poured Over is produced and hosted by Miwa Messer and mixed by Harry Liang. New episodes land Tuesdays and Thursdays (with occasional Saturdays) here and on your favorite podcast app.

Full transcript for this episode:

B&N: I’m Miwa Messer, I’m the producer and host of pored over and it is my great good fortune to say hello to Alice Elliott dark, who’s one of my personal favorite writers and I cannot believe we are here tonight. Because I don’t know how many of you remember In the Gloaming. Right, so ’93. The story just explodes in The New Yorker. Right, totally explodes. And then Updike himself picks it for the Best American Short Stories of the century, the next year. And then somehow, I’m convinced that the book comes out five minutes after that. And in fact, In the Gloaming, the story collection pubbed, in 2000. And then there was a novel called Think of England in 2002. Okay, we’re sitting here taping in July of 2022. And there’s something I’ve been dying to ask, Alice. Where have you been?

Alice Elliott Dark: Well, the CIA called me. No, I’ve been writing all this time. And I wrote a couple of novels that are sitting in my basement that didn’t work out, I just couldn’t figure them out. And I started teaching and really, honestly, that took a lot of time to. So I don’t feel like I disappeared. I felt very present in my own life. But I just took a step back from thinking about publishing a book. And then when I started this book, I started thinking, Okay, I’m going to make this one work no matter what, right?

B&N: Okay, so this is not the book you sold, though? No. 2000. Originally, this was going to be a novel about a book club.

AED: Yes.

B&N: Can we talk about that for a second?

AED: Yes. I wrote that book. And it was just unfortunate timing with that book, because another big book about a book club came out at that time. So I put that book away. I still have it. And I still think it’s good. I mean, if I went back to it, I would completely rewrite it, though, because it’s 20 years later, and I’m not the same person. But it was funny, and kind of light.

B&N: I heard the first draft of this book, though, came in at 1400 pages.

AED: Yes.

B&N: And the second draft came in at 800.

AED: Yes, the one I turned into my agent was 800 pages, and he passed it forward at 800 pages. And that was too long. And I knew it was too long.

B&N: I don’t usually say this, but I’m not entirely sold on the idea that 800 pages was too long, we need to talk about how you got from this idea of a book club novel, to a really big, sweeping modern 19th-century novel, about class and feminism and family and love and writing. This is a much bigger book than you originally set out to write.

AED: It was much bigger than anything I thought I would ever write. I was a poet until I was 28 years old. I never thought I’d be anything but a poet. But my poems started getting longer. And then I decided I’ll start writing prose. And it took me a while to figure out how to do you know, every new thing is a new form. It’s not like, Oh, you can do this. So you can do that. You’re learning all over again to do a new form. And this one, I watched a TV show, a miniseries, He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope, and I was like, oh my god, I love this so much. I love the plots and subplots. I love the twists and turns. Why have I never given myself permission to learn how to do this. And I decided I did want to do it. And as it turned out, it was the right venue for things that I’ve been obsessed with all my life. And I didn’t even really think all that through. They just kind of came together as I started writing the book. I have always been interested in land. It’s never made any sense to me at all that people own land. And that came into the book and interested of course, in feminism. I always say I became a feminist when I was two and my brother was born. That’s all it took to see the difference. And you know, I think my parents would say that they were equal, but it’s never quite like that. You know, the other issues in the book, too. I grew up in Philadelphia. People were Quaker all around me. My stepfather was Quaker. I was very exposed to that. And why don’t I make them Quakers? It’s so fascinating. It’s one of the few early American small sects that survived into the present and the Quakers thrived. They still are. All of those things that really lifelong things.

B&N: I’ve seen a lot a lot of people talking about Fellowship Point, mainly is a novel about friendship between two women and Polly and Agnes have been friends for 80 years. But it is so much more than that Agnes is never married Polly marries a guy called Dick, we will get to Dick in a minute. They have some children, we will get to James who needs to be punted into the sun, but we will get there as well. On the surface, their lives are very different. And yet this friendship indoors. So can we talk about how these women showed up for you again, I mean, you go from 1400 pages to 800 pages to 500 and change. But how did this start for you?

AED: Polly came first, the first character was actually Virgil. And I wrote many pages about him. And then Polly came into it Polly and Robert came just about the same time. And I actually wrote a draft that was just Robert moving in with Polly after he got out of prison, okay, and the two of them developing a relationship, both both very internal private people. And then, and that sent me on some of the themes of the book. But then when Agnes came in, the book blew up, it just became a much bigger book, because I could put so much into her belief system. And also, she’s a different kind of character, I think, then a lot of the women we see in novels, and that was really fun for me to explore someone who I would personally really want to be friends with and know and hang out with, but also make her not lovable, just more like interesting and challenging. And people have said to me, is she a feminist? Like, well, she is, but she’s much more of an egalitarian, she’s a vegetarian, it’s across the board. It’s nature, it’s animals, it’s men, it’s women. It’s like everything should be equal. That’s her belief system. And she really does believe it. But she’s not always that easy to get along with as such people can be.

B&N: I have a fondness for Agnes that might have something to do with my Aunt Lois, and my Aunt Jenna. And my Aunt Mildred. New England is home for me. And so these women are really they’re very iconic kinds of New England characters. I realize they are from Philadelphia, but Maine has rubbed off on them. For those of you who don’t know, I want to bring Virgil into the conversation for a second. He is a writer. From the 60s, we’re jumping back and forth in time between sort of the mid sic early mid 60s to the early aughts. And Virgil has a role to play but he’s gone to the Iowa Writers Workshop. And he’s had a novel come out. And he’s been surpassed a little bit by a couple of writers called Kerouac and Capote. And he had the great fortune as some of us have seen a being published in a moment that was not his. And he befriends Agnes and Polly, and that sets off some things that we’re actually not going to talk about here, because you need to read this for yourself. But we also have Robert. Robert circumstance, who, as Alice has said, has gone to prison. And when he’s released has this friendship with Polly. Agnes had sort of been his benefactor. When he was young, she decided that he deserved a bigger life than this life he was going to have in this tiny spit of land and Maine. And to see all these people come together on Fellowship Point, which when you’re writing about Maine, you’re writing about class. And there are a lot of folks who think of Maine just as sort of the fancy coastal bits, with the very expensive houses and the big boats and the art and everything else. There are bits of the coast of Maine that are like Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard. Interior Maine, though, is very different, and the folks who live in these very fancy coastal communities, too, who work in these houses and make these communities run. They’re not quite in the same position and Robert, he’s a smart guy. He’s kept up a correspondence with Dick, Polly’s husband, who, he’s who he is, it’s fine. But the life of the mind that your characters get to live, whether it’s Agnes or Polly, or Robert or Virgil. There’s also Maude, who we’re going to bring in Maude comes up from New York. She’s a baby editor who thinks Agnes needs to write a different kind of book that Agnes is not prepared to write. All of these people though, were deep into their own intellectual On an emotional terrain, they don’t all have language for what they’re going through, especially for the emotional bits. They really don’t have the language of talking about this. But what was the most fun for you, letting them just go off and show you who they were? Or were you trying to figure out how everything intersected and sort of tap them in directions that you needed them to go in?

AED: It was one following the next. I let them go off. First, I think I probably wrote a couple of 100 pages about each of them. Just their backstory, who they were, but not the kind of backstory of filling in a list of this is their favorite color. And this is their pet not like that, but just scenes that I saw them in, you know, I would just imagine them in certain situations. And watch what they did. You know, I started putting them together and listening to what they said to each other. I really do step back, when I’m writing, I don’t force it, I just step back and see what they’re doing. And the direction they’re taking. And yeah, I mean, it took me a while to piece the whole thing together, just as I was piecing Fellowship Point together, because it’s an invented place. So it would be okay. So, Agnes and Polly, they’re gonna live next to each other. And then where it is, you know, where do the other families live in that case? And where does Agnes ancestor? Why doesn’t he give himself the best house, you know, those kinds of questions, and it would be like two steps forward, one back to fill in what I figured out after the next thing happened that I’d have to go back.

B&N: Yeah, as I was prepping for this show, I was sort of outlining everyone’s relationships. And, you know, Polly has her sons and her husband and her grandchild and she’s got all of these familiar connections. And Agnes keep saying, Well, no, I’m fine. Now, Agnes has never married which for a woman of her age is not standard, right? When you think about all of the people who come into Agnes his orbit, you’ve got Maud, you’ve got Virgil, you’ve got Robert, even Polly’s granddaughters, the M girls, who are adorable. Everyone has come in. And Agnes has actually made a family in her own way. Now, she also still thinks of herself as her father’s daughter. And Polly does not have quite that relationship with her parents. Can we talk about the sort of evolution of their worldview? Their individual worldviews?

AED: Yes. Polly’s more on the surface of it conventional. And she follows a much more conventional path. She gets married right out of college, they both went to college. Agnes has a romance that fails. And that’s sort of it for her she’s not that interested. We see something later in the book that was a second possibility of romance. It doesn’t quite happen. Agnes’ worldview was very shaped by her father, who was the inheritor of a fortune and kind of the last person who really had the fortune because Agnes is told when she’s 40 years old, you have to make some money. If you want to keep fellowship point. The money’s not going to be there because the company isn’t doing that well anymore. And the company ends up not doing well because it was built on rather old fashioned business ideas, which have faded into the past very much gentleman’s handshake kind of ideas, and her line is idealistic. And she’s inherited that from her great grandfather, her grandfather, her father, Polly’s parents are much more social, they’re much more social, and in the world, they don’t have the kind of idealism that Agnes’ does. And it’s interesting, because the two of them very much influence each other about these things. You know, they’re kind of drawn in different directions by Polly’s husband, too, whose name is Dick and he’s a professor of philosophy. And he writes a book about pacifism. It’s funny because you said Virgil before is a little bitter that his book came out the same year as Kerouac. Well, digs a little bitter that his book on pacifism comes out right before World War ll, and he thinks that Hitler ruined my career. I know it’s kind of a bad joke, but that’s a private joke between him and Polly, but You know, it’s in the book. I don’t know why I did like two people who are bitter like that.

B&N: But well, you know, the thing about Dick too is he doesn’t realize quite how bright his wife is.

AED: No.

B&N: And she in fact, comes up with a theory, a philosophical theory that on the face of it, you think, Wait, what did I just read, and it makes perfect sense. But she can’t just talk to him about it at the dinner table. She ends up mailing him a letter, and doesn’t even sign her own name to it. And she finds this letter years later in his study, and she’s like, well, at least you read it. But nothing ever happens. And Polly, she likes the tennis club. She really really wants a daughter. She really wants a daughter so she can talk to her about arranging flowers and throwing dinner parties. She feels like she has this very specific skill set. And here’s Agnes in the back, saying I told you that theory was good. Why are you waiting for the man to validate? I mean, Agnes, really, she kind of, she’s very Agnes.

AED: She’s angry. All her life, then. Polly doesn’t put her first probably does put her first as much as she’s capable. But she has all these other connections that Agnes does not have. And although Agnes understands it, of course, she’s very upset about it. And that comes up a few times in the book. Yeah, and that incident that you’re talking about, about Dick in the letter, after Polly has one of her children, she really goes into sort of a fugue state, and she can’t sleep. And she’s writing and writing and writing. And she comes up with this theory. And when she tells it to Dick, she tells it to him and he says, oh, you know, that’s a very well known theory. It’s nothing new. Don’t get excited. And Agnes is like, Don’t listen to him. He’s wrong. He’s just putting you down. He’s holding you back. She doesn’t say all that. But that’s what she thinks.

B&N: Yeah. Which brings me to James, number one son of Polly and Dick, and early on, we meet him and he’s being a little bossy with his mother and sort of saying, well, we’ve got to deal with Fellowship Point and I need to make sure that your money is okay. And my first thought when I met James honestly was, huh. After punch him into the sun. That was literally the first thing. The second thing though, was, he’s broke, he’s got to be broke. And for a guy like James, for someone to say you’ve got to be broke is probably the worst thing you could say to him. And I realized my notes going on my marginalia is a little out of control in the galley. But can we talk about Polly’s sons for a second because they are very much the opposite of Robert. Even their dad to a certain extent, because they’re very much in the world. They want to make sure that things are taken care of. They want to make sure they live in nice places, and have access to nice things. So they’ve sort of tread their own path but man that James he’s…

AED: James is, you know how they that joke of George Bush Bush is everyone’s first husband. Yeah, he’s that. He’s that guy. Yeah, they’re much more like their grandparents, right. You know, they’re in this kind of social framework. None of them are great people. None of them live up to Polly’s quiet greatness that we see her come into later in the book.

B&N: And there’s a moment to where the boys try to move mom in a direction that mom is not prepared to go and I think they are not prepared for mom’s response, which was quite excellent. I may have underestimated Polly at first simply because of the surface appearance. She likes the tennis club. She likes the lady. She likes her life, everything else. But I think everyone kind of underestimated Polly for a long time except for Agnes.

AED: Yes. Agnes starting when they were young at school, Polly was very popular. The teachers all liked her. The other girls liked her. They invited her to go on vacation with them. Agnes was not that popular. The teachers liked her because she was so smart. She thought Polly was her intellectual equal, although not a good thinker, not a developed thinker, and she tried to train Polly, how to really be a critical thinker and Polly just kind of was resistant, but she never she never gets over the idea that she can always go to Polly to talk some something through. And I think it’s one of the frustrations of her life that she can’t tell Polly about her writing her adult novels. She’s writing under a pseudonym. And she doesn’t tell Polly about them because she doesn’t want Polly to have to keep a secret from Dick. She knows how how much that would hurt Polly. But I think she really wishes she could talk to Polly about it and tell her these books are mine because Polly, of course has read them all. But you know, that’s a very interesting dynamic between them to that there’s some very big secrets between them.

B&N: They’re very big secrets, but there’s also a lot of very ferocious loyalty and loyalty isn’t a word that we often apply to stories about women’s friendship, right? There’s who gets the boy who gets the girl who gets the house, who gets the dream group, all of these things where, you know, certainly, there is a subset of reader that comes across women like Agnes and Polly, and thinks, hmm, well, what do I do with these women, they’re just living their lives. And they’re a little prickly, and they’re a little imperfect, but they are ferociously loyal to each other.

AED: They are. And I think I take that for granted. But I realized it isn’t to be taken for granted. I do get frustrated myself reading books, where the drama is the women fighting with each other or being in conflict with each other. I’ve been frustrated by that all my life, I don’t enjoy it. I think they’re just as much dramatic interests can come out of fiercely, loyal, long term friendship like this. They do have a big falling out in the book. That’s legitimate. I think it’s not, it’s not trumped up and it’s not over a man. It’s not any of that kind of thing. It’s a legitimate moment of real difference between them that they have never talked through up to that point, which was really satisfying and fun to write. But I agree with you. I think a friendship like this is not that often portrayed to us. And I think it’s not that unusual. It’s just not thought of as being really dramatic, but it is.

B&N: I think there are certainly critics to who still treat sort of domestic dramas, for want of a better phrase, they treat them like they’re just sort of these little dalliances in these little stories, almost like soap operas. And in fact, there are plenty of domestic dramas, honestly, that could be big, sweeping political novels. I mean, take, for instance, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, right? It’s the retelling of Mrs. Dalloway. And if you look at that section of Mrs. Brown in 1949, Pasadena, she’s having a nervous breakdown in her kitchen in front of her child, because her life has gone off the rails and she’s stuck in this horrible marriage and everything else. And this all happens in what, 25 pages.

AED: My husband and I were talking about that exact section of the book today. Yeah, it’s really funny you brought that up because yes, in first place I love that book. I taught it this winter with Mrs. Dalloway. And it’s so fascinating what he did in that book, but yes, that it’s a really brilliant section. And there’s the neighbor, you know, her interest in the neighbor, which is so fascinating. Yeah, I agree with you. Those things, to me, have always been as interesting and as powerful as adventure stories, as war stories, all of that. And I really write again, I mean, obviously, I kind of write against that and saying, Yes, this is a big story to these 80-year-old women are just as legitimate of actors as men on the world stage.

B&N: And one of the ways you’re wrestling, too, with this entire world that you’ve created, whether it’s Fellowship Point, or Philadelphia, what have you, is also the idea of capturing the passage of time. Right. So, how many people have read Lauren Groff’s Matrix? It’s tiny. Okay. So the way great, have you read that?

AED: Yes.

B&N: Okay. So I mean, one, Lauren got me to care about nuns in the 12th century. So right there. But the way she captures time where she’ll drop a line, and she’ll say, oh, suddenly, we went from 35 nuns to 60. Or the season changed. And it’s two sentences. Yeah, you’re doing this across 500 pages to with these two women. And they’ll just be a line where it’s a small thing. And suddenly, you realize that time has moved forward. And this narrative keeps moving for over 80 years. And occasionally, we drop back in time, and occasionally we flash forward. And I will tell you, the ending is so satisfying. I’m going to be terrible, and just tell you, it’s really, really satisfying. But for you as the writer, let’s talk about how you capture the passage of time without resorting to cliche without needing to I mean, you reference 911 in a way where it took me a minute to realize what you were talking about. And I live in downtown New York and I was here and it still took me a minute. And I love moments like that because it makes me stop and sit in the book and sit with the characters and sit with what they’re experiencing, and I have to step away. So can we just talk about that little bit of magic?

AED: One thing I really have learned, or at least for myself about writing is never to explain why a person is the way they are, just to make a dramatic case for why they are the way they are. So the moments I have that are backstory, or that go back and forth in time, it’s because that backstory or that moment of slippage of time is dramatically relevant to the present moment of the story. So that’s the way I thought about it. And if I found myself starting to explain something, I just took it away. Because I never am moved by that. I don’t mind reading a lot of backstory, and there is in this book, but it’s very dramatically relevant to the present story. And to the solution of the present story. I just want to say it’s funny, you brought up the matrix because I really thought of Agnes as a mother superior.

B&N: Oh, completely. Okay. Also, I wouldn’t mind riding a horse through the front door of a house, but that’s me. Yeah, I can see that with I mean, Agnes is sort of the spiritual spine of Fellowship Point. I mean, she’s the one who pushes Polly in directions that Polly is not fully prepared to get. Oh, yeah. And there’s cousin Archie and his move his tacky tacky wife them just cousin Archie man he is.

AED: Well, that’s a funny thing is that, in spite of Agnes and Polly being very high minded in a lot of ways, there’s still some snobbery to them. And that character, sila Lee, you know, they look at her with that snobbery that they’ve inherited, I wanted to keep certain aspects of them intact like that, in spite of the way they try to be enlightened about things. It’s not all resolved.

B&N: What’s fun, though, is watching the two of them try to expand their worlds. And yes, they are not nice to the tacky wife, but the wife is still tacky, but watching them navigate space, and time and family legacy and memory, and try to sort of chip away at these things that have held them in places, and in some cases, their own ideas. I mean, there are a couple of moments where I rolled my eyes at dear old Agnes and I admitted earlier that I underestimated Polly completely. But as much as I love Agnes, she had a couple of moments where I was like, wait a minute, what did you just do?

AED: No, I agree with that. And my son said, you know, you’re gonna get in trouble for some of this about her because she rubs the wrong way in places. I said, yeah. But I have to be really authentic to who she is. And she’s not completely easy. She just isn’t. She reminds me of you know, you referenced your aunt’s. There were people that were teachers at my school that were like Agnes, my godmother was like Agnes, and they were people I really looked up to so much, but they were complicated people. You know, anyone who lives the way that Agnes has lived, where pretty much she can arrange her day, she wants the way she wants to, she has enough money. She has no one else she has to answer to, you know, things develop in a person like that. That can be a little bit. I wouldn’t say selfish, but there’s a self regard that is not necessarily compassionate, and every situation.

B&N: Agnes has a little difficulty reading the room. She does. She sees stuff that doesn’t align. And she means well, even though she’s prickly. She means well, she really does. There are moments with Agnes where I worried about her ending up lonely, in a way because she’s so intense, and she knows what she wants. And it doesn’t always align with reality. Polly always seemed like she was going to be fine. Maybe not necessarily happy, but she was always going to be fine. Whereas Agnes always sort of felt like she was throwing an elbow to get through whatever was happening in the moment.

AED: Yeah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But when you say it like that, I really see what you’re saying. Because Agnes could go too far. She really could. And as it happens, she’s actually sort of prevented from that by Polly’s presence. Right up to the very end of the book.

B&N: Yeah, they’re a pretty terrific couple. They really are. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the romantic sense, but they are a unit and it’s rare to see friendship. Two things. I love to read about friendship and siblings because siblings are hard to get right. And because it’s such a delicate relationship and you don’t want it to be weird and creepy, as Polly and Agnes is really kinship sort of unfolded? Did anything surprise you? Or did you just sort of understand who these women were and you just sort of let them go?

AED: I was surprised in the later parts of the book, and how much Polly came into her own. And there’s a very dramatic situation that happens late in the book that I won’t reveal. But I tried it a couple of ways. I tried it with Agnes being the dramatic actor in that situation. I was like, no, but it really is Polly. Who would be the one to see this clearly because Agnes is anger is in a different places. And Polly’s Polly’s is very direct at this moment. And that’s a development for her. She’s we sort of get the sense that she’s been, you know, she’s been thinking about her children. I think all those boys are disappointments to her at a certain level, especially James, she’s, she doesn’t delude herself about who her children are. Obviously, she’s very loyal to them. She’s supportive of them, she helps them out, she does all the right things. But when she has a chance to make a call on someone later in the book, when she doesn’t have that conflict of loyalty, she’s really able to step up to it. And I think that throws light back on her all through the book, and how she’s been making these judgments. But she hasn’t been expressing them.

B&N: And also, women’s anger still makes a great many people very uncomfortable, we get angry.

AED: Well, especially, you know, women who are in their 80s. You know, and I think Agnes has a few moments when she’s, well, both of them do I mean, when Polly’s sons, basically, after she’s alone in the world, want her to sell her house. And she’s like, Wait a second. You know, why are you even thinking about that? I’m perfectly fine. And the same with Agnes, she doesn’t feel that, with everything she’s done, that she gets the world’s respect. And I think that’s accurate to the way things are, I was really trying to make a case for their very active internal and personal lives, while at the same time being true to life about how they would be treated and received in the world.

B&N: I’ll tell you to that scene where the boys are talking to Polly and saying, Mom, you have to sell the house. And we have to do this and we have to do that. And we’re gonna move you into this very nice place. That’s, you know, whatever. My note next to it says it’s not your money. It’s Mama’s.

AED: And she goes there.

B&N: Yeah. And watching Polly, my moment of understanding that I had underestimated Polly came much before that. But I maybe cheered a little when I read that section. But I’m also keeping an eye on the clock, because things are going far too fast on time is passing far too quickly. And I wanted to take a chance and just ask you, who you are as a reader, and who some of the big influences are. I mean, obviously you’ve written this incredible, modern 19th-century novel. So there’s a little bit of Middlemarch, you certainly referenced trollop earlier but who are some of the other influences who have made Alice Elliott Dark, the writer we know?

AED: Well, when I was 30, and I decided I wanted to write fiction, I started writing stories, they were bad. And I could see that they were bad. It was the time in the world when minimalism was. And you know, there were a few, very few people who were very good at it. But to be very good at it. You had to understand everything about fiction, you couldn’t just sit down and write a spare story. And that was going to be a great minimalist story. So I took a step back for two years, and I didn’t write anything at all, which was funny for me, because I’ve been writing since I was a child. And I read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read all of Flannery O’Connor, all of Edith Wharton, all of James Baldwin, and all of Jane Bowles. Those were the five people I picked. I picked them each for a different reason. And I read everything; letters, docs, you know, everything of theirs I could read which was a great education because I saw that these people who I revered, had written lots of stuff that wasn’t great. You know, there was a range, but I learned from each of them. So all five of those are part of my writing DNA in different ways. And contemporary writing. I read a lot of different things. You know, I pick up a lot of books, I try them. I you know, you mentioned Lauren Groff. I really did love the Matrix. I like a test of much value. I’m interested in her. I like Jonathan Franzen. I could go on and on, so many people. I’m a great lover of other writers.

B&N: So, it’s a nice life, surrounding yourself. The writers are really lucky. You’ve also been teaching for quite some time now. What have you learned from your students?

AED: Everything. Yeah. I mean, I’ve learned everything. It’s one of the most fortunate things that’s happened to me. Starting at Rutgers in 2000, the world has changed so much in the last 20 years, the students have changed. It’s an interesting school to be at, because diverse is the word they use for it. But it really is lots of different kinds of students. I’ve learned about all different religions of India, you know, religions that are very small sects, because they’re students, they’re from that, from that particular group that I would have never heard of otherwise, because they don’t come into the general conversation. And I’ve learned a lot about different voices and how they appear in fiction. And all those things of how people well, you know, just the teaching part, how people learn to come into their own and stop imitating, which happened to me too, you know, I was imitating for a long time. And then I found my own way. And that’s the most exciting thing when people start writing in their own voice. But a lot of political realities have come to me through my students. And I feel very lucky for that. I go into school in Newark, and I have one life, and then I come back to where I live, which is a suburb that’s different, and it’s a different world. And I love the millennials, I’ve been very fortunate to be with that generation of people. I think they’re wonderful. Yeah, I mean, it’s, I’ve gotten they, it’s a cliche to say you’ve gotten more than you’ve given, but it’s really been true for me.

B&N: That’s so excellent. I heard that you are possibly working on a novel that feels like a sequel to the true story of In the Gloaming.

AED: Yes, that’s true.

B&N: You guys, this is Christmas in July. Seriously, this is Christmas in July, you have no idea, beloved, Laird does not make it so who are we structuring this now?

AED: We’re going to see a little bit of Laird in this book.

B&N: Oh, good, okay.

AED: But it’s really a lot around the sister who, when I first wrote the story, the sister was the point of view character, right. And then she went completely out of the story and really has one line in the story. But it you know, I’ve been working with these characters, I never could let go of them. And I didn’t write it as a novel at the time, even though people suggested it, because it would have all been backstory. But now it’s this many years later. And all these characters have had all these years to live without him. So it really is a book, you know, I the metaphor I keep thinking about is absence. And, and not just, you know, obviously, it goes beyond just a family with a missing member, who’s a very important member, the member who’s the glue. But a lot of the things that have gone missing in the last 40 years of our culture, which has really been huge. I think those of us who remember what it was like, in the 70s, as opposed to how it is now, not to glamorize or romanticize. But things have gone in a direction that are alarming to me.

B&N: I was having lunch with a friend who’s in her 70s now, and we were both agreeing that it felt like we were living in the 80s all over again. And neither of us was particularly pleased with that development. But it was also nice to have someone with a little more experience than me saying, Oh, no, you’re not wrong. No, it’s the 80s again. So I’m very, very, very curious to see what happens in this next book, but you know, I suppose I can be patient. And you know, we’re getting dangerously close to when I promised I would hand back the stage. But before we wrap things up, I have one other question, but it’s about Elizabeth Strout and Oh, William, which I heard you handed that off to your mom. And I’m just wondering what your mom thought of the book?

AED: She hasn’t told me yet. I know.

B&N: I liked Oh, William. I mean, listen

AED: That’s my favorite book of hers. I think I’m the only person in the world who feels that way. But I love how much looser she’s gotten in her work. That book is so open and loosely woven. I like that it’s something that happens to older writers that they stop trying to control everything as much not that I don’t love her earlier work. I love all her work. But this one seemed to me to be just like calligraphy, you know, it was just like a dashed off. Not that she dashed. I don’t want to say she dashed it off, but it was like okay, here’s this many years of someone learning to write then here’s like just the one second impression. And it was very powerful.

B&N: It felt like there was a direct line from all of again, yes to Oh, William in a way that I had not previously seen in her work but Oh, William was a delight. So I hope your mother reports back soon. Alice Elliott Dark, thank you so much for joining us with Barnes and Noble in Union Square. This is Poured Over and thank you again.

AED: Thank you so much.