A strange thing happened at Common Good Books on Tuesday, November 27 2012. Paula Bomer, author of Nine Months (SoHo Press), and Scott Wrobel, author of Cul de Sac (Sententia Books), shared a podium and read excerpts from their respective books. What gave this event a bit of idiosyncrasy was that, rather than being mere colleagues or cohorts or simply literary peers, Bomer served as editor and publisher of Wrobel’s work. What’s more, after two years of poring over and working on the manuscript that would become Cul de Sac, Tuesday night marked the first time the two had every actually met in person.
This detail didn’t come out until the Q&A, somehow, and so the entire evening wasn’t spent fixating on their respective reactions. That is: I missed an opportunity to witness Paula Bomer, sitting in the front row, witness the scenes she’d helped craft come to life as Wrobel entertained the audience. I also wasn’t attuned to the fact that when Bomer read, it was the first time Wrobel witnessed his publisher excel in her own craft. Fascinating as the observational psychology might have been, though, I was there for fiction. And fiction was there for me.
Without much fanfare, Bomer took to the podium first. She gave a brief bit of backstory and then launched into a chapter of her novel in which we learn that suffering through the first trimester of a pregnancy can be much like suffering from a crippling panic attack. Her prose was sharp, her empathy deep, her scenes immediate, rowdy, and authentic. She read the work with a quick shiver in her voice, almost as if the narrator’s manic suffering were her own. For a minute I wondered if she was okay; and on queue her character had a minor breakdown. When Bomer finished, she rushed back to her seat, indicative of a shy performer, and then Scott Wrobel took the stage.
Scott Wrobel is not a shy performer. He savored the attention of the thirty or so people in attendance, leading us through a lengthy preface to the excerpt he was about to read, offering backstories of the characters we were about to meet, a synopsis of the book as a whole, some background about the relationship between he and Bomer (this is when we learned, for instance, that Bomer was the publisher and editor for Brooklyn-based Sententia Books). Then he offered a bit more backstory, and eventually he got to reading. Even then, Wrobel seemed reluctant to let his work take center stage. He performed his characters’ dialogue in caricature (a grandmother spoke with an effeminate lisp, an aunt drawled like a south-side Chicago private eye). Performer’s flair aside, this affect seemed to border on making fun of his characters, though the language itself hardly seemed to warrant it. More frustrating, though, was how often Wrobel interrupted the prose to make asides: every time a word was in quotations, he not only made air quotes, but he also explained what air quotes were. Likewise with white space. Likewise with any other excuse he had to kill the momentum of his narrative and return the attention to himself as a reader.
Wrobel’s book has received praise from many corners of our community (Hazel & Wren, TwinCities.com, CityPages, StarTribune.com, MillCityBibliophile, etc.), and I wasn’t so put off by his “performerisms” that I don’t respect his skill and talent as a writer. Still, I don’t remember a thing about the story he read.
During the Q&A, Paula Bomer returned to her side of the podium and showed an entirely different persona. Gone was the skittish, wavering voice of her narrator: she took the audience’s questions by the horns, smiled and ranted, digressed, deferred on occasion to Wrobel. It made me wonder, at least, if she hadn’t been performing the whole time—and if so, who the more skilled performer of the night might well have been.
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar to be at the next LitSeen.org attended event. See you around!