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 sendher protagonist, Jillian Westfield, back in time: massage. One powerfulpush on a pressure point unblocks Jillian’s chi and takes thediscontented 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 alot of women I know have dealt with. It’s not just: What if I didn’tmarry the right person? It’s about the many choices you make along theway, where you get swept up in life, and how they can snowball and leadyou to where you are now.
I think so many women have thesewhat-if fantasies, but we don’t talk about them a lot. Somehow, theyimply that our current life, our real life, is fl awed. That’s not itat all. I think you can look back on your past and reflect on it anduse 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 theycertainly didn’t have as many opportunities to act on them. It’s somuch easier now. You think of someone, plug their name into Google, andbam, 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 whomwould be wonderful, from Anne Hathaway to Kate Hudson. But in my heartof hearts, I am a huge Felicity
fan. In my wildest fantasies, that show would still be on TV and I’d befollowing Felicity and Ben for the rest of their lives. My biggest wishwould be for Keri Russell to play the lead, because I feel she couldjust be my best friend and is the embodiment of this character.
Sofor the movie’s theme song, would you choose “Time of My Life” by BillMedley 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
“HowI got to this point, how we all did -- Lorne and Sam and me -- beganthree years earlier, on April 18, 2002. There is no hyperbole intendedwhen I say that was the worst day of my life.”
-- Comfort: A Journey through Grief
(W.W. Norton, $20) by Ann Hood
First-timeauthor Kathleen Kent spent five years scouring historical records inorder to uncover her family’s role in the Salem witch trials. Thismonth, she shares a fictionalized account of her findings in her newnovel, The Heretic’s Daughter. By Stacey Yervasi
KATHLEEN KENT RECALLS
sitting at her grandmother’s kitchen table when she was eight yearsold, listening to stories about Martha Carrier, a woman convicted ofwitchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, and hung for the crime in 1692.Carrier is Kent’s mother’s maiden name, but not until years later didthe younger Kent realize the shared surname was more than merecoincidence. “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 ancestorMartha Carrier. “It was the story that I was compelled to write,” shesays. “It never left me.”
Kent took a circuitous route inbecoming a novelist, working first in commodities for several years andthen as a contractor for the Department of Defense. She’d previouslywritten stories, screenplay treatments, and poetry in her spare time,but nothing book-length. It wasn’t until she retired from the businessworld that she decided to tackle the task of telling her family’sextraordinary history.
Kent traveled to New England to doresearch, and she remembers sitting in the Peabody Essex Museum inSalem and getting chills while reading the words of Martha . “To myknowledge, she was the only woman to confront her accusers and herjudges and say, ‘Shame on you,’ ” she says. “She very bravely andvociferously 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 ofher mother’s death. Kent used as many passed-down family stories as shecould and also incorporated the confluence of events -- smallpox, thethreat of Indian raids, repressive religious hierarchy -- thatprecipitated the witch hysteria. “It’s not a book of pure history,” shesays. “But I hope that it is an authentic rendering of the life andtimes 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 mothereven assists in the research. Their collaboration is fitting, giventhat the book serves as a touching tribute to a past generation. SaysKent: “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
writer with 28 books under his belt would likely be content withsticking to what has worked for him in the past. Instead, 75-year-oldfamed fiction author Philip Roth takes some daring departures in hisupcoming 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-affiliateduniversity in rural Ohio. Messner grows up as a Jewish butcher’s son inNewark, New Jersey, but moves away, selfishly yet reluctantly, as hisdoting father endures a mental breakdown. Messner’s grades at schoolare superb; he is aiming to graduate number one in his class. He worksa part-time job and stays out of trouble, worried that a misstep couldlead to military service in Korea. As an account of societal anxietyduring wartime, Indignation
rings true on every page.
Thebook details Messner’s struggle to keep his head down, succeedacademically, and stay away from the battlefield as a series ofdistractions threaten to derail him: a succession of obnoxiousroommates; a rigid dean of students; an unexpected visit from hisnormally unflappable mother, who’s greatly affected by the degenerationof her husband; and -- most of all -- an intelligent butpsychologically unstable non-Jewish beauty, Olivia Hutton, whodangerously consumes Messner’s thoughts after their passionate firstdate.
Roth is typically more adept at depicting male charactersthan females, and, true to form, his insights into the mind of a youngman trying to avoid the military machine are dead-on. But Roth’scritics should give him credit for his portrayals of the two keyfemales in Indignation
, asthey are strikingly genuine and he’s taken great care in crafting them.Roth is also noticeably restrained in his handling of adult themes. Thebook walks a more tasteful line than many of his previous efforts.
Captivatingfrom start to finish, the novel assumes a new dimension early on thatwill leave readers shocked. Despite Roth’s changes in style, one thingis decidedly the same: his undeniable skill as a storyteller.