Renée Manfredi discusses the characters and themes found in her first novel, Above the Thunder.
All your characters struggle with loss, yet they all in their own way refuse
to surrender to it. Did that come as a surprise to you?
Every fictional character I can think of is defined by loss; there's no novel in which all the characters have plenty of everything. Yet some of the writers I most admireJane Austen, Michael Cunningham, Anne-Marie MacDonaldprovide hope in equal measure with loss. This is what I wanted for my characters.
Your eleven-year-old heroine is such an independent and captivating girl. Where did Flynn come from?
In the early drafts of the novel, Flynn was a fairly typical child. Because she was so hyper attuned to her environment, though, she began to draw in the other characters' strong emotions, and she became the one who always spoke the truth, even if the truth was more emotional than factual. Her eccentricity emerged in part from her tendency to say what the others were unable or unwilling to express.
Your novel isn't a comic one, yet a few of your scenes are extremely funny. How do humor and tragedy co-exist so comfortably in your writing?
I think humor is a survival strategy. Some of my characters get through tragedy in moments of high comedy: Jack has his moments of giddiness; and Anna turns to an eccentric neighbor when grief becomes too much.
The four main characters constitute one of the most unconventional families in fiction. Is this a subject that has especially interested you?
The theme of family and belonging evolved naturally from the characters. I didn't know when I started the novel that the characters would become so vital to one another.
Do you feel your work explores any subject that doesn't get much attention in fiction?
What may be a departure is having characters that deal with grief, loss and love in unconventional ways. My work may be more sympathetic to spirituality than most contemporary American fiction. In other literary traditions, spirituality, the mystery of what can't be measured or seen, is more of a givenIsabel Allende's House of the Spirits is a case in point. One of the characters in Above the Thunder explores grief, loss, and love by talking to the dead, reviewing other lives, and having visions.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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