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Kinship of Clover

My wife’s third novel was published on April 4th. As bestselling author Ann Hood wrote, Elli “has an uncanny knack for examining the big topics of our contemporary world and putting a human face of them.” A knack and an unfailing desire to look at that powerful intersection of politics and characters.

As in her first two novels, Elli weaves together an intriguing cast of characters whose lives, as they entwine, engage the world and traverse life-altering personal moments. There’s the college botany major anguishing over mass plant extinctions, the wheelchair-bound teenager who makes him her first boyfriend, her outspoken old-left grandmother confronting Alzheimer’s, the radical Greens trying to draw the mourning botanist into their circle, and more.

This book is also very different from her last one, On Hurricane Island. Here, no one is whisked away to a secret detention center and subjected to “enhanced interrogation” while a major hurricane storms the prison. The crises in Kinship of Clover won’t make national headlines or give you nightmares, but the events as they unfold have a potent impact upon its very real characters and consume the reader.

Early response has been terrific. The Necessary Fiction review said the book showed “how a political novel in the right hands, can achieve high artistry.” In the Portland Press Herald, the reviewer concluded that Kinship of Clover “is heartbreaking and haunting, with a cast of finely drawn and deeply memorable characters.” (links to left)

In her publication day guest blog for Powell’s City of Books, “Fiction and the Costs of Activism,” Elli described her novels as a “kind of meditation on what can happen in families when adults take action based on strong beliefs, on how the consequences can be catastrophic. Each novel sent me in a different direction spiraling back to similar questions: What lessons do children learn from their parents’ activism? What messages of responsibility and moral obligation are passed down, and at what cost?”

This new book is published at a time of increased resistance to the racism, misogyny and war mongering rampant in our world. So many of us have become hungrier for literature and art and music which help us grapple with the parade of daily assaults on our beliefs and inspire us to fight back.

I should mention that there is nothing didactic about this book. As renowned author Charlie Baxter commented, “Midway through this wonderful novel, you will find a woman dancing in her wheelchair. That scene is one of the many memorable moments in a story about young people organizing for a sustainable future, even as their once-radical elders try to hold on to a gradually disappearing past. This is a book about time and love, politics and family, and it is sharply observant and deeply compassionate.”

I couldn’t have said it better. But that’s not surprising, since only in my dreams could I write like Charlie Baxter.  Read More 
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On Hurricane Island

My wife Elli’s second novel was published this week. In the words of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner, “On Hurricane Island is a chilling, Kafkaesque story about what happens when the United States does to citizens at home what it has done to others abroad. Meeropol puts the reader right into the middle of these practices through characters about whom you really care and a story you can’t put down; a really good book.”

I’ve been waiting for this moment since I read the initial draft of her first chapter in 2008. Back then, after two terms of Geroge W. Bush’s post-9/11 black site prisons and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the idea of a citizen being kidnapped and disappeared by security forces at JFK airport, was no more than a frightening possibility. But it was real enough, and no one else was writing fiction about it. There are novels about terrorist plots, but none that I’m aware of are told from the point of view of an ordinary citizen detainee. I sensed that Elli had a story that would grab a lot of people.

I urged her to hurry after Obama’s election. He promised to close Guantanamo, and put an end to Bush-era human rights abuses, so what she was describing might become yesterday’s news. I needn’t have worried. Unfortunately the existence of secret detention centers, like the one Elli created on a fictionalized Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine, is just as likely today.

I was also excited because I had a special role in the novel’s creation, beyond my usual commenting and critiquing her drafts. I’ve been obsessed with observing weather since I was a child. Elli chose to complement the political storm of human rights abuses with a physical one. The book takes place over a four-day period culminating in the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This is the height of the hurricane season and Hurricane Island, living up to its name, is about to experience a doozy.

It was my job to make sure Elli got the hurricane right. She had many questions. How far away would the hurricane center be when the island felt the initial effects? Should the eye go just to the east or the west of the island? What would it be like before and after the eye passed? How long would it take for the storm to run its course?

Some might wonder if there could be such a powerful hurricane with a well-defined eye so far north? That part isn’t fiction. I’ll never forget the photograph we found in the Vinalhaven Historical Society Library; the spray from a wind-driven wave during the hurricane of 1938 shot 100 feet into the air, overtopping the evergreens on the oceanside shore of Hurricane Island.

Today, with evidence of climate change all around us and post-9/11 laws in place, a book that explores the twin impacts of human-enhanced natural disasters and enhanced interrogation could not be more timely. But I must admit that I’m far from an objective observer. On Hurricane Island combines three of my strongest interests: politcs, weather and Elli.

Elli and I will be traveling extensively to promote her novel. To find out when we’ll be in your area so you can join us, please click on the picture of the book jacket on top left.  Read More 
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