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My Life as a Silent Movie

Indiana University Press, September 2013.

My Life as a Silent Movie is the product of my obsession with silent films—which also produced my poetry collection Cinema Muto (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009).

My Life as a Silent Movie is a contemporary novel that opens with the death of Emma’s husband and two children in a car accident. Emma is still in a state of shock and grief three weeks later when her self-centered Aunt Z visits and reveals that the couple Emma always thought were her parents had actually adopted her in France. This second disorienting blow sends her on a quest to find the truth about her birth. She travels to New York to question Apolline, a family friend, who reveals both the name of Emma’s mother, Anne-Sophie Desnos, and the unexpected identity of her father. Apolline swears he was the silent film star Ivan Mosjoukine. According to biographers he was a Russian film star who died in poverty in 1939, nineteen years before Emma’s birth. Emma flies to Paris in search of her mother. Instead she finds Ilya, the twin brother she never knew she had.

My Life as a Silent Movie continues my exploration of how history affects individuals. The novel also continues my fascination with the meaning of family and the tension between those we are given to love at birth and those we choose. To these themes is added my current interest in silent film, a medium whose rise and fall serves as a metaphor for all the precious achievements and horrific failures of the 20th Century. Making Emma’s father Ivan Mosjoukine, a historical figure I resurrected and recast in this contemporary novel, gives me access to the wonderful poignancy of the early silent cinema in Czarist Russia, the flight of White Russians to France during the Bolshevik Revolution, and the disruption of these heavily-accented actors’ careers with the coming of sound.

Reviews here.

You can learn about Ivan Mosjoukine
s life here. A list of his films can be found here.

You can order My Life as a Silent Movie here.

brazil cover

Winner of the Ruthanne Wiley Memorial Novella Contest, selected by Josip Novakovich, published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2010 (ISBN 1-8808-3486-3).

Brazil is a quintessential American road trip. Paulo, a 19 year old bell boy in a Miami Beach hotel, and Claudia, a wealthy Hungarian refugee, take off on a night drive that turns into a crosscountry journey, a sleep-deprived search for the real America and for missing family, a fast-moving car trip into her past and toward their future.

Reviews and ordering information can be found here.

The Alice Stories

Wisconsin is not where Alice, a girl raised in Florida, meant to end up. But when she falls in love with Anders Dahl, the son of Norwegian farmers born for generations in the same stone farmhouse, she realizes that to love Anders is to settle into a life in Wisconsin in the small house they buy before their daughter, Maude, is born. Together, Alice and Anders move forward into a life of family, friends, and the occasional troubled student until they face their biggest challenge.

Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Jesse Lee Kercheval’s The Alice Stories tells the tale of a family: the pain of loss and the importance of the love of friends in the midst of turmoil. As timely as the news, yet informed by rich humor and a deep understanding of human character, the interlinked Alice Stories form a luminous tale of family life.

Reviews can be found here. The Alice Stories can be purchased here.
ISBN-10: 080321135X

The Museum of Happiness

Ginny Gillespie is a young widow who has fled Florida with her husband’s ashes in her suitcase. Roland Keppi is a half-Alsatian, half-German carnival worker in search of a vision. They meet in Paris in 1929 and fall in love under a cloud of sparrows, but are soon separated when Roland is deported. Moving back and forth between Ginny and Roland, past and present, The Museum of Happiness follows the paths that bring them together in Paris, and the journeys that reunite them in a town where happiness has a shrine of its own.

Along the way, we meet an eccentric array of characters whose fates are all somehow connected to those of Ginny and Roland: Roland’s grandmother Odile, a visionary like him whose final revenge on their superstitious hometown is forgiveness; Ginny’s landlady, the indomitable Madame Desnos, who finds herself evicted from her own hotel; Ginny’s mother, a doctor whose religion has led her away from humanity; and a crew of filmmakers out to document the entire world.

Starting with Roland’s birth just before World War I and ending with the invention of television, The Museum of Happiness ranges from small-town Florida to a bizarre German detention camp, from the Parisian underworld to a place in the south of France where lace is the only industry. Exploring the conflicts between nationality and identity, family and freedom, fate and choice, The Museum of Happiness is a romantic and compelling novel with a gloriously happy ending.

The hardcover edition was published by Faber and Faber in 1993 (top picture, ISBN 0-571-19821-X). A trade paperback with new afterword by the author was published in 2003 by the University of Wisconsin Press (middle, ISBN 0-299-18734-9). Also, a German translation was published by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag in 1997 as Der Zaubergarten (bottom, ISBN 3-453-11686-0).

Reviews can be found here, and The Museum of Happiness can be purchased here.
Der Zaubergarten can be purchased here.

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The Dogeater

Winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award in Short Fiction, this collection of eight short stories was published by the University of Missouri Press in 1987 (ISBN 0-8262-0632-8).

The stories included in the collection are 
Underground Women, Willy, A Clean House, Tertiary Care, La Mort au Moyen Age, The History of the Church in America, A History of Indiana, and the title story The Dogeater, about an elderly Igorrote man, living in New Orleans, who was originally brought to the United States as part of an exhibit for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

“Underground Women,” the first story in the collection, became the nucleus for The Museum of Happiness. It was also the basis of Paula Froehle’s 2002 film.

Reviews can be found here. Although The Dogeater is out of print, used copies can often be found here or here.