courtesy Peter Geye
Minneapolis native son Peter Geye has long been fascinated with the North Shore. His latest, The Lighthouse Road, is the story of a Norwegian immigrant Thea, cooking in a logging camp, and her son Odd, fishing Lake Superior.
Geye speaks to The Mother of All Book Clubs on Monday, January 19, at 5:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble, Galleria. (He may be a little late; this stay-at-home-dad will be waiting on the babysitter.)
Here he answers five questions in anticipation of the event.
1. You’re a born-and-raised Minneapolis city boy. What was your experience of the North Shore growing up, and what has been so fascinating about it for you as an adult and as a writer?
Many of my earliest memories are of time spent on the North Shore. My family didn’t vacation in Florida or Hawaii when I was a boy. Instead, we went up north and pitched a tent or rented a cabin. If that sounds like a complaint, it isn’t. I loved then as much as I love now time spent on the water or in the woods. I suppose on the most elemental level my fascination with the North Shore is as simple as that. On another level—maybe a more poetic or spiritual level—I see this part of the world as one enormous sanctuary, one for both body and mind. I love the way it changes all the time. It never fails to surprise me or enliven me. And, maybe most importantly, it never fails to mystify me. I think this last is what makes it such a wonderful place to write about. It comes alive in many of the same ways a dynamic human character comes alive.
2. The Norwegian immigrant Thea came to you from a photo of a young woman in a book about Northern Minnesota. What was it about that photo, and how did she develop from it?
I wish I could pinpoint what it was about that picture that put me under its spell. Perhaps the reason a clear understanding eludes me might have something to do with the fact that in the years that I was falling under the spell of that photograph—and it really was years—I was never aware of the fact that I was falling for her at all. I’d find myself stuck on her and before I realized it, ten or twenty minutes had passed and a whole new quality of this imagined personality would be formed. It was a strange thing.
In any case, it was only after I finished writing my first book and was casting about for a new subject that I realized I had already done a fair amount of work on this woman.
Once I did realize how interesting a life like the one I imagined might be, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. She just came to life. I fell in love with her in a very tangible way. Thea just took over. I’ve never really had another experience like it.
3. The relationship the characters have to each other and their babies, and the fractured, tenuous sense of “family” they have with each other, is both hopeful and sad. How did having children change you as a writer? How has being a stay-at-home dad changed you as a writer?
It would be impossible to overstate how having children has changed me as a writer, to say nothing of simply being a man. I think experiencing what it is to love a child of my own has opened me up to what’s most beautiful in this world in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience. The simplest things are magnified and made more meaningful because of my children. There are feelings I have access to as a result of loving them that I never would have known without them. These things taken together have really helped me evolve as both a writer and a man.
Folks are often asking if I have an ideal reader in mind when I’m writing. Before I had kids, the answer to that question would have befuddled me. But after children, it’s just as simple as can be. My ideal reader is my children, and my stories are nothing more than an explanation of who I am and who I hope they will or will not become themselves.
Certainly this realization has made writing more meaningful, and in some ways it’s made it easier.
4. Rebekah is a particularly complicated character—a friend, a lover, a business partner, a (reluctant) mother. How did you invent her, and what are your thoughts on her as her creator?
I don’t know if I’ve ever had more sympathy for a character than I have for Rebekah. The tragedy of her life is enormous, and it was often a sort of brutal thing to write about her. But I think I owed it to both Rebekah specifically and the story generally to give her the fate I did.
I think she’s a resilient woman. I think she’s suffered much more than most people ever do, and for that reason she’s attuned to certain qualities of character that most of us aren’t. For this reason alone she was a joy to write. She taught me many, many things. I also think that there’s something especially beautiful about her for all of her fault and tragedy. I hope this comes through in my writing of her.
And for those who feel like they didn’t get to know her well enough, I say stay tuned. You’ve not seen the last of Rebekah Grimm. Not by a long shot. She features prominently in my next book, a novel called The Winterers that I’ve just sold to Knopf.
5. What would you like parents to glean from you book—Minnesota parents in particular?
I’m certainly not in the business of giving parenting advice. I know how incredibly difficult it is to raise children in this world. But I hope that one of the things I’ve made clear by writing this book is that I believe there are many varieties of love, and though some sorts are more difficult than others, none is necessarily more valid than another. I also think it’s important to remember that love can find us in strange ways, and that we ought to be receptive to it. Certainly both Thea and Odd Eide are a testament to this.
But finally, and most importantly, I think I would implore folks to love and protect their children. I don’t think it ever hurts to be reminded of it. Certainly I benefit from the reminder myself.