I recently attended an event at The General Society of Merchanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York at which Erika Goldman, publisher and editorial director of Bellevue Literary Press, and Diane DeSanders, author of the autobiographical novel, “Hap & Hazard and the End of the World,” were interviewed.
The author, a fifth generation Texan, read an excerpt that pulled me right in. Her unnamed child narrator felt what I felt, got under my skin and inside my heart, despite our very different backgrounds. At the signing, I asked Diane if we might arrange an interview when I finished reading the book.
On one of the hottest summer afternoons, Diane came over. We had quite a schmooze fest.
--the words Hap and Hazard in the title replaced Diane’s first choice: ‘Nip and Tuck.’
--she is in her 70s. This is her first novel. It took her years to write before which she had many jobs. She taught and worked in the theater in all areas from stagehand to set designer to playwright.
--the parents in the book, Dick and Jane, are the names of her parents. Events in her childhood were springboards for this fiction. The focus changed from an adopted neighbor, who figures into the story, to the little girl, she modeled after herself.
Such good characters! What a read! Intimate! Funny. Sad. Scary. Dick, the Dallas father who works in his family’s Cadillac business after World War 2, flies into rages. Mom Jane, a homemaker, is there and isn’t. And two little sisters, two grandmothers, who are so different, other relatives, and neighbors are all mysteries to the lonely child narrator who tries to understand her complex family and longs for her parents’ attention.
“I wanted to show the whole universe, the whole world I came from,” Diane said.
In writing about a specific, complicated family and a particular childhood, Diane captures much about class, race, intimacy, the dynamics between men and women, between parents and children, coming of age, religion, innocence, lost innocence, and sex.
Mostly, we discussed the writing. Her sentences, often long, kept me right there. In the hands of lesser writer, they would not. “I was there,” Diane said. “Engaged. Present. There was an urgency.”
An urgency. Of course.
I asked if age made it easier to be so vulnerable. She nodded. “I’m done being mad, done being resentful.”
We got to what she learned from writing the book? “Before this, I wrote short pieces and stories,” she said, telling me about studying with Gordon Lish and the places where her short work was published. “What I learned writing the book was how to write a book.”