Monday, September 02, 2013

Interview with Elizabeth Graver: Author of THE END OF THE POINT

Author Elizabeth Graver

Interview with Doug Holder

Elizabeth Graver’s new novel is The End of the Point. She is the author of three other novels and her work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories (1991, 2001); Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1994, 1996, 2001), The Pushcart Prize Anthology (2001), and Best American Essays (1998).  She teaches English and Creative Writing at Boston College. I had the privilege of interviewing her on my Somerville Community Access TV show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: Why did you use a summer home in a fictional Massachusetts coastal town, Ashaunt, as the focus for your novel The End of the Point-- the very house that was the home of the Porter family from 1942 to 1999?

Elizabeth Graver: The house and the land are the main characters. I was really interested in time, the passage of time and what stays and what doesn’t through the generations. I took the idea of taking a singular place and looking at it through a stretch of time with different lenses.  So in this case it is  a 2 mile spit of land that is quite unchanging in that people cling to tradition there. Change is slow to come to this land of ruggedly beautiful summer homes, rocks and ocean. But on the other hand everything is changing. The book is set partly during WW ll, and partly during the Vietnam War. The land and the house are like containers for the people, but they are almost characters as well. They have their own independent lives.  And as people move and change through the generations at least the land endures. And even that is open to question because of development. I was interested in this book, more than my other books, in capturing something over a stretch of time.

DH: The End of the Point deals with a rather well-to-do New England family of privilege. Is this in anyway similar to the way you grew up?

EG:  No I did not grow up in a family like this. My grandparents were Jewish immigrants. My Dad went to City College in NYC, and my mom went to Queens College. I grew up in a little town in Western, Mass. My parents were out of place there but ending up loving it. My husband comes from a family of a similar background to that in the novel. In my family we had no summer homes, etc… When I met my husband he did have a place like the one described in the book. I was fascinated by the place. My family is one of diaspora –so I was interested to find out how place and family works through ownership. How can these things intersect?

DH: Were you envious of the lifestyle of this old New England family?

EG:  Not in any simple way. I am more interested in it than envious. I love continuity of place and I also love to travel. No I am not envious—curious.

DH: The character of Charles—the son of Helen—one of the Porter daughters—seems to be-- at least in his college-aged years, a bulwark  against change—in regard to change in this seaside community. But he in fact uses it as a place to heal—as a place for his own change.

EG: He is complicated. On the one hand he doesn’t want the land to change. The land in a sense is his second mother. But in other ways he courts change. He leaves New England to go to college in the Midwest.  He becomes involved with an unstable Vietnam War vet. So I was interested in all the insiders and the outsiders in this book. There is a sense in the novel that characters are always pushing boundaries.

DH: This story takes place from the 1940s to the 1990’s. Why did you choose this period of time?

EG:  1942 was an interesting time, in that there were Harbor Entrance Control Posts—where the army made bases that were to look like summer houses. I ended the story in 1999 because I was interested in ending before the turn of the century.  There is no email in my novel—no wireless. I was interested in tracking communication when it was done differently. There is a lot of waiting in my book. I didn’twant to dip in the 21st Century.

Ashaunt is a fictional version of a real place I spent time. And in this place you can still see the old foundations and remnants of generations past. I found it really interesting to picture 200 soldiers arriving at this place and how this change would affect the family. How would the teenage Porter girls be affected by hanging out with soldiers?  I also wanted examine how the war across the ocean affected this spit of land.

DH: The character of Helen speaks to the herculean effort it took for a woman in the 195os to break out of the traditional role of housewife, mother, etc…

EG: There have been a variety of responses to Helen. Some readers don’t like her at all—they feel she is a narcissist.  She is very conflicted about raising children. I was very sympathetic to her—an intellectual woman of that era with all these expectations of what you are supposed to do—how many children to have, etc… She loved her children, but was restless and wanted to go for more.

DH: Is this book a beach read?
EG:  My book on Amazon has been classified as family saga, and historical drama fiction. And I resist both of those. Mine is much more complicated. It has got a lot of beach in it , but it is not a beach read. The setting is integral to it but it is not a beach read.

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