Thursday, January 2, 2020

A boy, the sole survivor of a plane crash, grows and struggles to find meaning in his life in one of my favorite novels ever: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano and she's here to talk about it!

Ann Napolitano has done a miracle, crafting a novel that  is both superbly literary and heartwrenchingly moving. But don't just take my word (or my blurb) for it. Look at this stellar press she's getting.
“Dear Edward is that rare book that breaks your heart and stitches it back together during a reading experience that leaves you profoundly altered for the better. It’s about the infinitesimal difference between being a victim and being a survivor, between living and being alive. Don’t miss this one.”Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

Dear Edward isn’t just a beautiful novel, clear-eyed and compassionate even as it pulls us into such difficult terrain. It’s an examination of what makes us human, how we survive in this mysterious world, how we take care of each other. It’s the kind of book that forces you to trust that the author, who will break your heart, will also lead you toward something wondrous, something profound. After this brilliant novel, I will follow Ann Napolitano to the ends of the earth.”Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang and Nothing to See Here

“Outstanding, beautifully written, a compulsive read. Dear Edward is the best book about a young person I’ve read since Emma Donoghue’s Room.”—John Boyne, bestselling author of A Ladder to the Sky and The Heart’s Invisible Furies

“Ann Napolitano’s writing is astonishing. I’m in awe.”Marian Keyes, bestselling author of The Break and The Brightest Star in the Sky

“I loved Dear Edward so, so much. It made me laugh and weep. So many times I had to stop after reading a paragraph to acknowledge the beauty of Ann Napolitano’s writing. In Edward, his friend Shay, and the passengers on the airplane, Napolitano offers unforgettable characters, people you know you will miss after you’ve turned the book’s last page. Magnificent!”—Lily King, author of Euphoria

“From its breathtaking premise—a boy is the sole survivor of an airplane crash—to its absolutely rhapsodic finish, Dear Edward is about the persistence of hope, the depth of love, and the unexpected, radiant moments that make up our lives. If I loved this stunning novel any more, I’d have to marry it.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

“A stunning novel of courage and connection in the face of unimaginable loss. Beautifully written, with characters so intensely alive you will hold your breath as they break your heart. An extraordinary read.”—Helen Simonson, author of The Summer Before the War and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

“Gripping and elegaic, this is a captivating novel about loss, love and growing up.”—Rosamund Lupton, bestselling author of Sister

“Weaving past and present into a profoundly beautiful, page-turning story of mystery, loss, and wonder, Dear Edward is a meditation on survival, but more important, it is about carving a life worth living. It is about love and hope and caring for others, and all the transitory moments that bind us together.”—Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley and The Good Thief

“Eddie is an ordinary twelve-year-old, until a horrific plane crash turns him into the real-life Boy Who Lived. Ann Napolitano brings clear-eyed compassion to every character in Dear Edward, from Edward himself, caught between living and merely surviving, to his fellow passengers, who don’t have that choice. The result is a rich, big-hearted tapestry that leaves no one behind. Fans of Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be spellbound by Dear Edward, which explores trauma with the same honesty and tenderness as it does the crooked path to healing.”—Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists

“From the first page of this heartwarming and heart-wrenching novel, I was dazzled. Napolitano weaves a story that brims with humanity—with joy and sorrow, love and friendship, survival and triumph, and a cast of unforgettable characters. Dear Edward is a masterpiece that should be at the top of everyone’s reading list.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Saints for All Occasions

Ann is also the author of A GOOD HARD LOOK and WITHIN ARMS REACH, she was also long-listed for the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize

I am thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Ann!

I always want to know what is haunting someone into writing a book. I think I know some of the answer from your glorious authors note in the book, but I still would love you to talk more about it.

There was a real plane crash in 2010, that I became obsessed with. The flight originated in South Africa and crashed in Libya—most of the passengers were Dutch, and on their way home from vacation. Only one passenger survived, a nine-year-old boy named Ruben van Assouw. The boy was found still strapped into his seat about a half mile from the wreckage–the speculation was that he’d been sitting near the fuselage and had been basically ejected from the plane. He had a badly broken leg and a punctured lung but was otherwise fine. Everyone else, including his parents and brother, had died immediately. I couldn’t read enough about this story, and the obsession was such that I knew I was going to have to write about it. I needed to write my way into understanding how this young boy could walk away from this wreckage, from the loss of his family, and not only survive, but to find a way to live his life.

Would you say that your previous novels have taught you skills in terms of craft, or do you, like me, alas—have writers’ amnesia, where every book is a new book and everything you think you know about writing flies out the window?

I have the same experience as you, sadly—every book is a new book, with its own challenges and its own hard problems. Structure is always a headache, though an interesting one. I like to think, however, that my sentence-by-sentence writing improves somewhat with each book, and that I get a little better at accessing the emotional grid of the story. That might be wishful thinking, though. It takes me a long time to muscle a novel into a place where I’m happy with it. It took eight years to write Dear Edward, and I would say that for the first five years the whole thing was at best mediocre, with a lot of major and minor flaws. Stubbornness is perhaps my most defining trait as a writer, though—I basically will not give up until the novel works.

I love the way the book is structured in alternating chapters, with some chapters set right in the plane before it goes down, so we can know the lives of the people it is carrying, and the other chapters set in present day, showing how Edward is grappling with the loss. Was this always the plan?

Yes, it was always the plan. When I conceived of the story (based on the idea of the real crash) I knew the story would start with the plane taking off and end with it crashing. I wanted the story of the flight and Edward’s story afterward to sit side by side, in part because I knew the flight and the crash were a weight Edward would have to carry with him every day of his life. He would never be able to set it down; at best, he’d learn how to bear it.

I also loved (without giving anything away), how we got to live some of Edward’s life post-plane with him, and experience his changes along with him. There was so much grace there, so much beauty. Can you talk about how life can be both unutterably sad and compellingly gorgeous?

I would love more than anything to talk about that! But I don’t know how, and I think that’s a large part of why I write novels. I can try to say something over eight years and several hundred pages that I could never express in clear speech out of my mouth. But perhaps it is in moments of great sadness that we as humans are the most beautiful? I think of being in New York for 9/11, and how hundreds of people rushed to hospitals to donate blood, and how firefighters and emergency personnel from all over the country got in their cars and trucks when they heard the news and drove to New York to help. Others lined the West Side highway to applaud those emergency workers as they arrived. When we show up for one another—and I believe we are hardwired to do so—it is heartbreakingly beautiful.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

The history of basketball, and the history of racism within basketball. I’ve been obsessed, and reading everything I can on the subject, for about two years. It’s amusing to me, because I had no interest in basketball up until that point, but it’s also exciting, because I know it’s a push toward the story I will tell next. I know the obsession will inform the novel I’m taking notes on now, but I don’t know exactly why or how yet.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

These were excellent questions. Thank you, Caroline.

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