In the new novel by Allison Winn Scotch, one woman goes back to her past to discover what might have been.
SO YOU WANT TO SEND A CHARACTER BACK IN time seven years. How do you get her there? A DeLorean? A Zoltar wishmachine? Nah, too ’80s. In Allison Winn Scotch’s second novel, Time of My Life (Shaye Areheart Books, $23), she uses a more hands-on approach to send her protagonist, Jillian Westfield, back in time: massage. One powerful push on a pressure point unblocks Jillian’s chi and takes the discontented 30-something housewife back to the boyfriend, the career, and the life she left behind.
Scotch, a frequent contributor to American Way, is the interviewee this time, answering our questions about the what-ifs, ands, and buts in Time of My Life and about the book’s upcoming adaptation to the silver screen.
I can’t help but think of films like Peggy Sue Got Married and Back to the Future when reading your novel. Did they provide any inspiration?
Hopefully, this book is a more modern take. It explores themes that a lot of women I know have dealt with. It’s not just: What if I didn’t marry the right person? It’s about the many choices you make along the way, where you get swept up in life, and how they can snowball and lead you to where you are now.
I think so many women have these what-if fantasies, but we don’t talk about them a lot. Somehow, they imply that our current life, our real life, is flawed. That’s not it at all. I think you can look back on your past and reflect on it and use it to help you understand where you are now.
Jillian Westfield relies heavily on magazine articles for advice -- real articles that you’ve actually written.
Jillian was reading about life rather than going out and living it. She wanted other people -- whether it was her husband or Redbook -- to tell her what to do.
Do you think people are pondering those what-ifs more in this Google age?
I don’t know if people 30 years ago had fewer what-if moments, but they certainly didn’t have as many opportunities to act on them. It’s so much easier now. You think of someone, plug their name into Google, and bam, there they are.
Are you a Google addict?
I am such an avid Googler. If I meet you on the street, I will probably Google you.
A movie adaptation of the book is already in the works. Do you have a dream cast in mind?
The producers and I came up with about seven actresses, all of whom would be wonderful, from Anne Hathaway to Kate Hudson. But in my heart of hearts, I am a huge Felicity fan. In my wildest fantasies, that show would still be on TV and I’d be following Felicity and Ben for the rest of their lives. My biggest wish would be for Keri Russell to play the lead, because I feel she could just be my best friend and is the embodiment of this character.
So for the movie’s theme song, would you choose “Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes or David Cook’s song of the same name?
Definitely the David Cook version. I found out about the movie deal the day he won American Idol. He came out and sang that song, and I started sobbing, thinking, This has got to go in the closing credits of my movie!
A celebration of great opening lines in literature
“How I got to this point, how we all did -- Lorne and Sam and me -- began three years earlier, on April 18, 2002. There is no hyperbole intended when I say that was the worst day of my life.”
-- Comfort: A Journey through Grief (W.W. Norton, $20) by Ann Hood
First-time author Kathleen Kent spent five years scouring historical records in order to uncover her family’s role in the Salem witch trials. This month, she shares a fictionalized account of her findings in her new novel, The Heretic’s Daughter. By Stacey Yervasi
KATHLEEN KENT RECALLS sitting at her grandmother’s kitchen table when she was eight years old, listening to stories about Martha Carrier, a woman convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, and hung for the crime in 1692. Carrier is Kent’s mother’s maiden name, but not until years later did the younger Kent realize the shared surname was more than mere coincidence. “The story, for me, was more than just a history lesson,” she says.
Now, Kent has borrowed from that family tale in conceiving her first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter (Little, Brown & Company, $25), based on the life of her ancestor Martha Carrier. “It was the story that I was compelled to write,” she says. “It never left me.”
Kent took a circuitous route in becoming a novelist, working first in commodities for several years and then as a contractor for the Department of Defense. She’d previously written stories, screenplay treatments, and poetry in her spare time, but nothing book-length. It wasn’t until she retired from the business world that she decided to tackle the task of telling her family’s extraordinary history.
Kent traveled to New England to do research, and she remembers sitting in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and getting chills while reading the words of Martha . “To my knowledge, she was the only woman to confront her accusers and her judges and say, ‘Shame on you,’ ” she says. “She very bravely and vociferously proclaimed her innocence until the end.”
The Heretic’s Daughter, which is set a year prior to the beginning of the Salem witch trials, is told through the first-person narration of Martha’s daughter Sarah, who is nine years old in the book but was actually six at the time of her mother’s death. Kent used as many passed-down family stories as she could and also incorporated the confluence of events -- smallpox, the threat of Indian raids, repressive religious hierarchy -- that precipitated the witch hysteria. “It’s not a book of pure history,” she says. “But I hope that it is an authentic rendering of the life and times of the Carrier family.”
Kent plans to continue the exploration of her ancestry in two more books; the next will serve as the prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter. Her family has been supportive of her literary efforts, and her mother even assists in the research. Their collaboration is fitting, given that the book serves as a touching tribute to a past generation. Says Kent: “What I hope The Heretic’s Daughter shows is the pride and the standing in awe of what our forebears have accomplished.”
Old Dog, New Tricks
Veteran author Philip Roth returns with a new novel and a fresh approach. By Steve Weinberg
ANY LESSER writer with 28 books under his belt would likely be content with sticking to what has worked for him in the past. Instead, 75-year-old famed fiction author Philip Roth takes some daring departures in his upcoming 29th novel, Indignation (Houghton Mifflin, $26) -- and readers are rewarded handsomely for his efforts.
Set in 1951, with the Korean War as its backdrop, Indignation focuses on Marcus Messner, a sophomore at a private Baptist-affiliated university in rural Ohio. Messner grows up as a Jewish butcher’s son in Newark, New Jersey, but moves away, selfishly yet reluctantly, as his doting father endures a mental breakdown. Messner’s grades at school are superb; he is aiming to graduate number one in his class. He works a part-time job and stays out of trouble, worried that a misstep could lead to military service in Korea. As an account of societal anxiety during wartime, Indignation rings true on every page.
The book details Messner’s struggle to keep his head down, succeed academically, and stay away from the battlefield as a series of distractions threaten to derail him: a succession of obnoxious roommates; a rigid dean of students; an unexpected visit from his normally unflappable mother, who’s greatly affected by the degeneration of her husband; and -- most of all -- an intelligent but psychologically unstable non-Jewish beauty, Olivia Hutton, who dangerously consumes Messner’s thoughts after their passionate first date.
Roth is typically more adept at depicting male characters than females, and, true to form, his insights into the mind of a young man trying to avoid the military machine are dead-on. But Roth’s critics should give him credit for his portrayals of the two key females in Indignation, as they are strikingly genuine and he’s taken great care in crafting them. Roth is also noticeably restrained in his handling of adult themes. The book walks a more tasteful line than many of his previous efforts.
Captivating from start to finish, the novel assumes a new dimension early on that will leave readers shocked. Despite Roth’s changes in style, one thing is decidedly the same: his undeniable skill as a storyteller.