I had the opportunity to attend an author book talk at RJ Julia bookstore last week with Mary Beth Keane, author or Fever.
I always love attending author events – from the selections they choose to read to the questions from the audience – it is always fun. And events at RJ Julia are always small and intimate.
Keane chose to read a selection from Fever where Mary is thinking about the new hat that she bought – I think from Ch 5. Keane told us that when she spends time describing an item of clothing there always needs to be a purpose to the description – not just to fill some word count. I think that this scene very well fulfills that purpose.
I was really surprised to learn that there isn’t a whole heck of a lot known about Mary’s life. Obviously we know about the spreading of typhoid part, but her private life before coming to stay on North Brother Island is very vague. This gave a lot for the author to work with. I also enjoyed learning about how the author had to make a decision about Mary’s decisions – did she understand she was spreading disease and didn’t care thus being the malicious devil described in the papers – or was she confused about the new science and didn’t understand enough and thought she was being unjustly persecuted? As I stated in my review, the book would have benefited from a Historical Note section, however this portion of the book talk really filled in some of the gaps for me.
Everyone in attendance who had read the book, myself included, stated that the author did such a good job of making this marginalized person real – so we were surprised to learn that Keane doesn’t have any intentions right now of writing about a real historical figure. Although she did it well – she found it extremely difficult to do. Her next novel will be more contemporary and I think she said set in New York – but it is apparently in the very earliest planning stages.
Several people there praised her earlier novel, The Walking People, so I would be remiss to not mention it. It is an immigration from Ireland to the United States story that spans a 50 year time period. Here is the blurb:
“Greta Cahill never believed she would leave her village in the west of Ireland until she found herself on a ship bound for New York, along with her sister Johanna and a boy named Michael Ward. Labeled a "softheaded goose" by her family, Greta discovers that in America she can fall in love, raise her own family, and earn a living. Though she longs to return and show her family what she has made of herself, her decision to spare her children knowledge of a secret in her past forces her to keep her life in New York separate from the life she once loved in Ireland, and tears her apart from the people she is closest to. Even fifty years later, when the Ireland of her memory bears little resemblance to that of present day, she fears that it is still possible to lose all when she discovers that her children—with the best of intentions— have conspired to unite the worlds she’s so carefully kept separate for decades. A beautifully old-fashioned novel, The Walking People is a debut of remarkable range and power.”
Stay tuned later this week (hopefully) for a post about North Brother Island – where “Typhoid Mary” spent a significant portion of her life.
Mary Beth Keane’s website
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