Topic of the Week: March 16-20, 2010

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

A fascinating theme in literature is cyclical generational bondage. Some religions refer to it as “sins of the parents visited on the offspring,” and “generational curses,” while psychologists recognize and commonly treat devastating aftermaths of this tendency of children to repeat the mistakes of their parents. Substance abuse, incest/child molestation, domestic violence and other crimes mirrored from one generation to another, are common topics of authors through the centuries. This week in #litchat we’re discussing books that feature characters struggling with generational curses and bondage.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe‘s debut novel, Thirsty, takes on this theme with a cast of cagey and sympathetic characters led by 16-year-old Klara, who leaves an abusive father in Croatia for the promise of a new life in America with a man she barely knows. Planted in Thirsty, Pennsylvania, a hardscrabble steel town outside Pittsburgh, Klara soon finds her husband even more abusive than her father. Within O’Keeffe’s lyrical prose lie understated observations of 19th century social standards, such as the place of African-Americans in the post-Civil war North, alcohol abuse, and friendships between women. The heart of the story beats at the end when Klara’s daughter marries a man even more abusive than her father. With the help of the town drunk gone sober, Klara moves decisively to break the cycle of violence without resorting to the violence of her dreams.

O’Keeffe has lived in Shanghai, China since April 2006. She is a voracious reader, a happy mom, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can… believing in your writing… and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in “writerhead.” Kristin’s work has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, The Baltimore Review, The Gettysburg Review, and many other publications. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for almost 15 years. O’Keeffe blogs at

Read chatscript from Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s appearance in #litchat here.