The Litblog Co-op is pleased to announce its Winter 2005 READ THIS! Selection: Garner by Kirstin Allio. The weeks ahead will include chats with Allio and others involved in the publication of the book.
We’ve made one major change since last time. We will continue the practice of unveiling the other four considered titles over the next four days, and having week-long discussions and posts by LBC members taking up the pros and cons of each title. The change is that instead of discussing Garner next week, we will discuss the other four considered titles first. The intention is to allow as many LBC readers as possible the necessary time (five full weeks) to get a hold of a copy of Garner, read it and be able to participate in the discussions we will be having during the week of February 20th.
Now we’re happy to present Dan Wickett, who nominated Garner, as he explains why we think you should Read This!
When I found out that I was going to be nominating a title for LBC consideration, I immediately knew which title I was going to suggest. It was only a few weeks earlier that I had stopped by home on the way to running a few errands. In the mailbox was a package from Coffee House Press containing a review copy of Kirstin Allio’s Garner. I decided to bring it along with me on my errands, in case I got stuck in any lines. As the errands included both going to the bank, and paying a bill, I did indeed get stuck in a couple of lines. Long enough to read about the first 15 pages of Garner and generate the need to get back home so I could sit down and continue. Sometime just before midnight that evening, I put the book down, completely surprised at how this novel that I’d never heard of, by an author I’d never heard of, had totally sucked me in to the story, the characters, and the place and time of the setting.
How had Allio done it? I pick up books by the dozens every week and read the covers, the author notes, and usually read the first few paragraphs. I end up reading many of these books, but it is rare, maybe once per quarter, that I start one and find myself setting it down hours later, unaware that it had turned dark outside while I read, and that I will need to get up a mere 2 or 3 hours later.
In Garner, Allio pulled me into a small farming town in 1925 New Hampshire and didn’t let me go until she had finished telling me everything I needed to know about it. Her writing not only described the time period and area to the point where I could see it in my mind, but also captured the cadence and pace of said period and area. Her writing voice is amazingly consistent, especially when one considers the structure she utilizes to propel the story forward, switching narrators from section to section. This structure, while having a very modern feel to it, blends in seamlessly with the story Allio is telling.
The town of Garner could be considered the story itself, what with its 200-some residents, all as stoic as can be. The farming business has not been as profitable in the recent past and some of the residents have taken to bringing in summer boarders from big cities – folks who both enjoy the seeming simplicity of the country life, as well as their assumed superiority to the locals. The Giddens family is one who has taken on boarders, and their daughter Frances, who is approaching womanhood, is the character who pushes this novel forward, both in her life and death – and it is the discovery of her dead body that Allio uses to set the novel in motion.
Frances’ body is discovered by Willard Heald, the postman of Garner, as well as self-appointed town historian. It is from his vantage that the first section of the novel is written and he sets the tone for Allio. It is a great choice as he considers himself “a man of the perimeters” and one who “will watch over the far borders.” As the postman, Heald even takes it upon himself to determine what mail should be delivered and when.
This leads to an action Kirstin Allio has taken that grabbed my attention: she has given her readers not just one, but many unreliable narrators. Heald leads off the book, and is followed by Malin Nillsen, a New York socialite summering at the Giddens’ farmhouse. Her section is being remembered some decades after the summer in question. The next section is told from the view point of a city couple who, not content to just summer in Garner, had purchased a farm for back taxes.
In each section the reader receives nuggets of information about various characters that will help piece together the summer of 1925 and what led to Frances’ body floating in the river where Heald found her. With her usage of different unreliable narrators though, Allio forces the reader to question their own beliefs about what happened – even as they are developing.
It is this blend of great writing, a unique setting that I never would have guessed I could be interested in, and a really interesting story, and this different method of telling it that wouldn’t allow me to put this book down once I had started. It is for these reasons that I point to Kirstin Allio’s Garner while suggesting that you Read This!
I want to thank Lauren Snyder of Coffee House Press for sending a copy of this gem to me, especially considering it was not at my request. I’d also like to thank the other members of the Litblog Co-op, for their help in selecting this book as one they want to put their collective support behind.
Interested in Reading This with the Litblog Co-op? Members of the LBC, as well as Kirstin Allio, and individuals from Coffee House Press, will all be involved in discussions of Garner during the week beginning February 20. Again, that’s five weeks from today to give non-LBC members a chance to get a copy - and Powell's is offering it at a 30% discount - and read it before we discuss it. We hope to see you there!