Boomer lit entry a well-written, unpredictable story
Pat Carr is an award-winning author of 16 books and numerous short stories. She's taught literature and creative writing in universities in the South and has her doctoral degree from Tulane University. Her expertise at fiction writing is apparent from page one of her latest novel, "The Radiance of Fossils."
She's also stepped into a genre that is becoming more popular: boomer lit, which are books and short stories for baby boomers.
In Carr's novel, the main character, Dalton Randall, is 60 and a successful archeologist. Facing an unhappy second marriage with a cheating husband, she attends her first writing retreat in the mountains of Arkansas.
But she's not attending because she is looking for a new career during her retirement years. She's there because 32 years ago, fresh-faced and newly divorced, she spent a passionate summer with Archer Giles.
Archer is a moderately successful mystery writer, leading the weekend retreat, which falls over Independence Day. He can't believe it when he sees Dalton as one of the attendees and immediately wants to start up where they left off. This pleases Dalton, or so she thinks, while she struggles to figure out if she still loves this man.
Besides these two main characters, Carr provides a cast of lively writers from young to old, male and female, from various backgrounds, all at the retreat to share their writing and learn from Archer. Dalton doesn't really want to get involved in any of their lives — she just wants to figure out her own. But she finds herself sucked into their stories and discussions and eventually learning more about herself than she could have imagined possible.
What Carr does in this book is bring the writing retreat setting into the living room of the reader. The details she has chosen and the way she weaves them throughout this character-driven tale paints a literary picture of a typical Arkansas writing retreat.
If readers have never been to a retreat — nor even to Arkansas — they will feel like they have. Writers who have been to this type of writing event will find themselves nodding along with her descriptions, from the wine served in jelly glasses to the hikes in the woods to the table the attendees sit around to share their stories and critiques.
The story is not predictable, which is why this short novel is such a good read. Readers start out thinking they know everything about Dalton and the other writers, including Archer, but Carr peels back characters' layers and reveals surprising traits. Readers discover these amazing characters at the same time Dalton does.
Carr has had short stories published in well-known anthologies, such as "Best American Short Stories," and in prestigious literary magazines like Southern Review. Her novel, "The Women in the Mirror," was the winner of the Iowa Fiction Award, and "If We Must Die" was a finalist for the PEN Book Award. She also has written a memoir, "One Page at a Time: A Writing Life." She lives on an Arkansas farm with her writer husband, Duane, and a cast of animals: three dogs, a cat and eight black chickens.
Reading a well-written book is a delight. "The Radiance of Fossils" is a wonderful way to spend a cool fall weekend afternoon, along with a cup of coffee and a cozy blanket.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.