In Dana Spiotta’s new novel, “Wayward,” a woman named Sam buys a dilapidated house in a neglected neighborhood in Syracuse, leaving her husband and her daughter in order to face down big midlife questions.
“She is what we used to call a housewife, a stay-at-home mom,” Spiotta says on this week’s podcast, describing her protagonist. “She has one daughter, she’s married to a lawyer. It’s not an unhappy marriage. I wanted to avoid a lot of clichés with her. I didn’t want it to be an unhappy marriage that was the problem. And I didn’t want him to leave her for a younger woman. I didn’t want her to be worried about her looks. She never thinks about wrinkles or her looks very much in the book. She doesn’t even look in the mirror anymore. She’s not concerned about that.”
What she’s concerned about is living a more honest and purposeful life, and the novel follows her efforts to do that.
Ash Davidson visits the podcast to discuss her debut novel, “Damnation Spring,” set in a tightknit logging community in Northern California in the late 1970s. Davidson describes how the book was partly inspired by her parents’ memories of living in the area.
“I grew up listening to my parents’ stories of this place, and it is the most beautiful place they have ever lived, and that beauty is also the source of its own destruction,” she says. “So those stories became almost like a mythology of my childhood, and I think I always kept a folder of them in my head, where I was filing them away. I used a lot of them as scaffolding for the novel, in the early years of writing it. Gradually, as time went on and the story got strong enough to stand on its own, I was able to strip away that scaffolding of their stories and let the fictional narrative shine through.”
Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:
“Emerson” by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi
“The Post-Birthday World” by Lionel Shriver