Some stories are just so raw and gritty they can’t be told without wincing in pain for the characters and with the author who surely bled tears while writing. These are stories and characters who linger like the scent of flowers after a funeral, neither unpleasant, nor comforting. Reflecting the times in which they occur, they are mirrors to some and to others they’re hideous portraits of life’s underbelly. This week in #litchat we’re discussing the raw and gritty literature that leads to growth and keeps you thinking.
Joining us on Friday, January 27, is Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints (Ecco). Named among the Top Ten Books of 2011 by the New York Times, as well as a dozen other notable lists, Ten Thousand Saints is a solid literary debut from an author with a strong voice. There are so many themes worthy of discussion within Ten Thousand Saints, it’s hard to draw on one to the exclusion of others.
Set primarily in a fictional Vermont town and NYC’s lower east side during the mid-1980s, Henderson skillfully folds us into the lives of four teenagers escaping the dysfunctional homes of their 1960s generation hippie parents. The backbone of the story is Teddy, who early in the novel dies of an overdose, yet continues to prop up the story through the guilt each of his friends carry about the night of his death. In a milieu of drugs, sex and punk rock, we meet Jude, Teddy’s best friend; Eliza, the girl who had sex with Teddy the night he died and bears his child, and Johnny, Teddy’s older brother, a straight-edge adherent who marries Eliza in homage to Teddy. As Jude is drawn into the straight-edge punk lifestyle flourishing in the lower east side, Johnny’s marriage to Eliza conflicts and counters everything they both believe. The specter of death hangs around the three characters, as AIDS raises from the unknown and into the bloodstream of America. Hope rests on Jude in the end, leaving the reader to speculate and wonder and imagine a dozen scenarios of closure.
Eleanor Henderson was born in Greece, grew up in Florida, and attended Middlebury College and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in 2005. Her fiction has appeared in Agni, North American Review, Ninth Letter, Columbia, and Salon, among other publications. Her story “The Farms” was nominated for a Pushcart and selected by Alice Sebold for The Best American Short Stories 2009. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, All Things Considered, Poets & Writers (where she was a contributing editor), and The Virginia Quarterly Review (where she was the chair of the fiction board). From 2006 to 2010 she taught at James Madison University in Virginia. Now an assistant professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband, Aaron, and sons Nico and Henry.
View the video trailer for Ten Thousand Saints.
Follow Eleanor Henderson on Twitter: @eleanorofithaca.