Review: Novelist Julia Glass amuses, captivates at La Grua

24-OCTOBER-2015 STONINGTON CONNECTICUT 
National Book Award Winner Julia Glass gestures as she reads excerpts of her work to an audience at the LuGrua Center, Saturday, October, 24, 2015, in Stonington, CT
CREDIT: STEVEN FRISCHLING
24-OCTOBER-2015 STONINGTON CONNECTICUT National Book Award Winner Julia Glass gestures as she reads excerpts of her work to an audience at the LuGrua Center, Saturday, October, 24, 2015, in Stonington, CT CREDIT: STEVEN FRISCHLING

 

She's only lived in Stonington borough for a little over three weeks. But, based on the reception Julia Glass got Saturday afternoon, she's already made plenty of friends in the community.

Walking into the La Grua Center 20 minutes before her scheduled reading, Glass — the October Writer-in-Residence at the James Merrill House — stopped to chat, hug and greet with a number of locals in a scene, reminiscent of whenever a president enters the Capitol Rotunda before a State of the Union Address.

During her remarks and answering audience questions, it was easy to see why the author — yet a borough-ite for another week — has made so many friends in such a short time.

Her charm, an endless supply of hilarious and self-effacing anecdotes, and candid insights into publishing and the writerly life all conspired to make the event a hugely pleasant experience.

It also helped that Glass read excerpts from the first two chapters of an as-yet-untitled novel — at which she's diligently working on while at the Merrill House — and they were instantly seductive and captivating.

Glass, 59, won the 2002 National Book Award for her debut novel, "Three Junes," a selection which surprised many because of her relative anonymity in the literary world.

Since then, she's published four more novels: "The Whole World Over," "I See You Everywhere," "The Widower's Tale" and 2014's "The Dark, Sacred Night."

The reading started with an introduction by Laura Matthews, a longtime editor and member of the Merrill House Foundation.

She recalled her first literary experience with Glass. Matthews was then an editor at Cosmopolitan and evaluated a short story Glass had submitted.

Matthews was impressed with the work but, given the publication's association with such things as a Burt Reynolds centerfold, the high quality of the story precluded its suitability for the periodical.

Before reading, Glass, dressed in a brightly patterned blouse and dark skirt, thanked the borough, the Merrill Foundation and the village's residents and businesses for their hospitality.

She then apologized to the foundation because she's not working on the project she'd described in her residency proposal.

Claiming status as a serial monogamist when it comes to books she's writing, Glass was dismayed with herself when strange and unbidden characters started appearing in her thoughts that had nothing to do with the existing manuscript.

She also placed blame for what became a switch in her Merrill House focus on a hobby — badminton. "I'd play badminton every day and, in the shower afterwards, I had time to think about these new characters."

In an assured voice, and with occasional sips of water, Glass then read from the new novel.

She introduced Morton, a famous children's book illustrator whose sudden death has placed his wife, Eddy, in an odd position — not just as his literary executor, but also as the contact for Hollywood and an Academy Award-winning actor scheduled to portray her late husband in a film.

Told from her point of view, the chapter is redolent with a sense of melancholy and insecurity, but beautifully captures Eddy with wit and affection.

The second chapter, written from the perspective of the actor Nicholas Green, is an evocative look at sudden stardom, its subsequent precarious nature, and a gifted man's indecision about the nature of fame, the pursuit of art, and the glory of solitude over breakfast.

Glass also read a poem she wrote at the Merrill House, a lament about two dead goldfinches she found on the upstairs porch after they'd apparently flown into the glass window.

Genuinely sorrowful, Glass blamed herself.

Her normal work schedule would have dictated that she'd have been awake and the window open. "But I stayed in bed an extra hour that morning, probably after a wild night at Noah's."

If Glass enjoys the occasional wild night, we're all better for whatever inspiration such things might inspire. It was a joy and a privilege to hear her thoughts, observations and what will assuredly be a wonderful new novel.

r.koster@theday.com

Twitter: @rickkoster

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