Kilkenny Castle’s majestic Parade Tower on Monday evening was the setting for this unique chance to listen to both the work and the insights of two debut novelists – one Irish, one American.
‘Versions of America’ brought together Liza Klaussman (formerly of the New York Times) and John Butler – well-known here from the days of his popular Irish Times column. Cormac Kinsella, the festival’s literature curator, acted as compere and willing questioner for the evening.
Butler read first – his novel, the Tenderloin, is a coming-of-age story on the lives of three Irish emigrants living in the confusion of San Francisco during the boom of the 1990s. The extract we heard concerned the first meeting of the protagonists; a tongue-in-cheek foray into the antics of young schoolboys in a Roman Catholic secondary school, with the murkier undertone of the suspected abuse of one student by a teacher.
Klaussman then read from her own book. Tigers in Red Weather is a dramatic tale of secrecy, betrayal and love, set in the opulent Martha’s Vineyard between the 1940s and 1960s. The extract she chose to read concerned the frustrated meanderings of a naiive young socialite trying to find her place in the tennis club, her family, and life. Klaussman set the scene, and then left us on a cliffhanger.
Butler’s father is originally from Kilkenny. His first work, while fiction, grew intially from a series of long memoirs originally published in the Dublin Review. He is, at present, working on a second novel – this time a love story.
While having a more historic setting, Klaussman’s novel also features distinct elements of the biographical. She stresses as a muse the influence of her grandparents; notably the anecdotes and reminisinces of her grandmother. It is the small details, she says, that keep the characters grounded.
Notably, Klaussman is the grand-daughter of Herman Melville; this genetic reality has no doubt been both a help and a hindrance to her in her writing career.
Both authors obligingly lingered afterwards to discuss their work with audience members who queued for books.