While reading submissions for City of Weird, I started to see themes emerge. There were a lot of aquatic monster stories. There were a lot of stories that had a strong focus on dogs. One of the groupings I was surprised by was stories centered around otherworldly books. In fact, I wrote about how interesting this was, and how conflicted I was about it (being a bookseller, myself) for the Powell's blog here.
One of these otherworldly book stories was Susan DeFreitas' "The Mind-Body Problem." Late at the library at Reed College, binge-researching a last minute term paper on the correlation between the mind and the body for her philosophy class—while unsure about the relationship between these two parts of herself—Shana discovers a book that doesn't exist. The book gives her exactly what she's looking for, for her paper, but it's also an omen of death and misfortune.
The book-as-omen-of-death thing is super cool, but "The Mind-Body Problem" is so much more. One of the main themes is star-crossed love, but the one-sided kind of star cross where character A is in love with character B, but character B is focused elsewhere. Here's a favorite passage of mine. Narrator Shana is having tea in a homemade shelter in Reed Canyon with the young man she's been secretly in love with for a long time, and he's just shown her the scroll of Chinese calligraphy he has made for the girl he's in love with.
We sat sipping from our tiny teacups, and he told me about a party that night at the old dorm block; our boy Alex would be there—I should come. I nodded, thinking about the bridge across the canyon from which those rumored students had jumped. Had they been driven to it by heartache, the weight of it? As Cam spoke, I could feel myself sinking into the stone upon which I sat, which was itself sinking slowly into the bog.
I wondered, how would it feel to climb up onto the railing of that bridge at night, to look down into the darkness? How would it feel for that one brief instant to be released from any contact with the earth?
Above is a photo of Blue Bridge over Reed Canyon, courtesy "Another Believer," via Wikipedia Commons.
Susan has been getting loads of praise for her debut novel Hot Season, which was just published by Harvard Square Press. An outlaw activist on the run. A pipeline set to destroy a river. And three young women who must decide who to love, who to trust, and what to sacrifice for the greater good. Wow, what could be a more perfect time for this book to come out! Hot Season is a beautifully written story that combines the personal themes of coming-of-age with the wider themes of climate change and eco-terrorism.
Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl and The Folly of Loving Life, calls it, "a beautiful book that asks the crucial question, is it worse to destroy a dam or to destroy a river? Which is to say, how do we live our conscience on a crowded, corrupted planet?"
Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave, calls it, "a beguiling college novel in the tradition of The Secret History."
Here's a great review of the book on the EcoLit Books blog.
Somewhere during the process of editing City of Weird, I was contacted by Susan and honored with the chance to design the book cover for Hot Season, using the beautiful photography of Lucy Wu.
On Friday, Susan will be appearing alongside two other contributors to City of Weird, B. Frayn Masters and Leigh Anne Kranz, as well as myself, to talk about the themes of womanhood and feminism in City of Weird on KBOO Radio's Bread and Roses, the longest-running feminist radio show in the country!
But first! Today is the day of the official book launch event for Hot Season. Susan will be reading at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland at 7:30. If you're in town, come on down and celebrate with us. The Facebook event page is here. CORRECTION: this event has been postponed because of inclement weather. I'll post an update when it's rescheduled.