Scott Dominic Carpenter, who published his book of fiction, This Jealous Earth: Stories, with MG Press in January, now has a novel coming out with Winter Goose Publishing. He’s here to tell us about Theory of Remainders (published on May 22, 2013).
MG Press: To start with, can you lay out the premise of the novel for us?
SDC: Sure. Philip Adler, an American psychiatrist, returns to France nearly fifteen years after his teenage daughter’s murder. As he tries to make peace with his ex-wife and her family, the past begins to resurface in troubling ways. When the opportunity arises to address unresolved issues, Philip seizes the opportunity. Unfortunately, the loose ends resist his attempt to tie them up, and soon the past is unraveling as fast as Philip himself.
MG Press: Those “loose ends” point to the word in the title—remainders?
SDC: That’s right. I’m interested in all the nagging leftovers that accumulate in life, that beg to be tidied up or squared away. Of course, it’s not always possible.
MG Press: Fascinating. I must say, this book sounds dramatically different from the short story collection.
SDC: Yes and no. Of course, a novel is a very different beast from a short story: it needs a more developed plot to sustain it, and usually more characters. There’s also a strong element of suspense to this book, which appears less directly in the short stories. That said, I think readers will feel a connection between this book and the collection. For instance, I always place a great deal of emphasis on family relationships. Also, elements of humor bubble up even in the midst of trauma—which is deeply ingrained in the way I see the world.
MG Press: But there’s also this radically different setting. Why France? This Jealous Earth had a number of connections to the Midwest, but here you’ve taken a different tack. Is it a desire to move beyond so-called regional literature? Or are there still Midwestern ties to Theory of Remainders?
SDC: As with so many either/or questions, the answer is “yes” to both sides. I’ve spent many years in France, on again, off again, and this novel is partly an opportunity for me to introduce a long-standing fascination with language and cultural difference into my writing. My main character, Philip Adler, is an American who can manage reasonably well in French, but he’s still made to feel like an outsider at every turn—and I suspect many readers can identify with that kind of experience. However, there are also connections between this story and more local and personal experiences—which it became easier to write about by making the setting more distant.
MG Press: Why Normandy, rather than some other region of France?
SDC: First of all, it’s a part of France that many readers will be familiar with. Even if they haven’t visited it, they’ve at least heard of it. The area is famous for the D-Day landings, and is thus already associated with a history of trauma—of which Theory of Remainders represents a personal, non-military version. It’s also a place where this traumatic history keeps coming to the surface, year after year, in a variety of ways.
Finally there’s the fact that Normandy might be considered the “Midwest” of France: it’s largely rural (with a heavy concentration of dairy production), yet contains a few large cities (such as Rouen and Le Havre), which struggle with the loss of industry and a rapidly changing marketplace. It’s a kind of heartland. And many of the aspects of small-town life I describe are not even specifically French; they’re found everywhere—including the small town in Minnesota where I live.
MG Press: How extensive was your research of the French locations?
SDC: Quite. I know Normandy well, but for this book I wanted a town I wasn’t too familiar with. It was important that I feel it as something strange and foreign, and that’s how I settled on Yvetot, which I’d never visited before. For the novel I spent time there (as well as in Rouen, Fécamp, and the surrounding countryside) photographing everything I could, from cows to monuments to city streets. And yet, my version of these locations is fictionalized. I just used reality as a starting point.
MG Press: What plans do you have for launch and promotion?
SDC: Theory of Remainders comes out in hardback on May 22, and in paper ten days later. The book has already been selected as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, and it will be promoted nationally by the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (for its powerful depiction of loss). The advance press is very encouraging. We’ll do an official (and festive) launch at Common Good Books (Garrison Keillor’s bookstore, in St. Paul, MN) on June 24, and the first stops of the book tour are already up on my website (www.sdcarpenter.com). I’m trying to make myself as available as possible for readings and even book club visits—so people shouldn’t hesitate to contact me.
MG Press: Are you working on another book now that this one is finished?
SDC: Yes, indeed. I don’t like to say too much about work in progress, but I’m pretty excited about the next novel, which is a very “American” tale.
Theory of Remainders releases on May 22. It will be available nationwide through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and will be found in bookstores throughout the Midwest (to start with!). More information at www.sdcarpenter.com and www.wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/scott-dominic-carpenter/