Sandra Novack opens Precious with the disappearance of a 10-year old girl, Vicki Anderson, in a small town in Pennsylvania during the summer of 1978. The girl’s disappearance disturbs her friend, Sissy Kisch, who saw her on the day she disappeared but didn’t say anything.
Sissy’s family has enough problems already, as her mother Natalia abandoned the family and ran off with the doctor for whom she worked. Novack shows how Natalia’s disappearance affects young Sissy, her older sister Eva, and their father Frank. Eva is thrust into her mother’s role at a time when Sissy most needs her real mother, but Eva is on the cusp of womanhood, embroiled in an affair with a teacher at her high school — never mind all the other boys she sleeps with — and is not ready for such responsibility. Meanwhile, Frank is left to raise the girls alone, and he has a hard time managing his anger. Tensions arise when Natalia returns home, and the family is changed forever.
Novack’s prose is beautiful, putting you in the scene and making you feel the character’s emotions. The characters are wonderfully flawed, and I was able to feel some sympathy for them even at their worst. Novack really gets you thinking about how we react to the events of our lives and how we reach out or push away those we love.
I really felt for Sissy, a young girl not sure what to think about her friend’s disappearance and alone in her house when Eva rushes off to be with her man while their father is at work. This is one of my favorite passages from Precious, when Sissy goes to the park where Vicki was last seen despite being told to stay away:
She does not know when, exactly, she first hears laughter. Possibly seconds after skipping the first stone, maybe minutes. She freezes, stone in hand. On the other side of the creek, at the place where large limestone juts from the ground and a thick tree branch extends over the water, she sees Vicki just as she imagined her, her bedraggled hair crowned with flowers. “I didn’t really believe you’re dead,” Sissy calls out. “I knew I could find you.” Watching her, Sissy can hardly contain her heart, its joyful leaping. Before she can think that she will be famous for her detective skills, and that she will win if not the love of her mother then the love and adoration of Vicki’s mother, all while Vicki is chastised for running away and sent to her room for a month without dinner, before she can think of any of this, she blurts out, “People are worried about you, you know. You can’t just leave like that.” (page 55-56)
I also found Natalia’s story interesting, from her horrific experience as a child in a gypsy camp during the Holocaust to her motivations for leaving her family. Novack drew me in from the first page, and I highly recommend this book. Precious is not a light read, and it was hard to read at times — especially the scenes in which Vicki’s mother Ginny expresses much pain over her daughter’s disappearance — but the emotional roller coaster is a worthwhile ride.
Sandra Novack generously agreed to answer a few questions, and I’m honored to welcome her to Diary of an Eccentric.
What inspired you to write Precious?
Precious was inspired by an incident in my life, that when I was seven my sister ran away from home, and I’ve never seen her again. So the idea of disappearances, as well as the notion that when we tell stories we remember and resurrect those who are lost, were always with me.
How long did it take you to write the book?
My agent landed me a two-book deal with a partial novel and a completed story collection. So I wrote most of Precious under a nine month deadline. In total (including the months to write the 85 page partial) that process took one year.
Do you have a special place where you write?
It depends, but mostly I like to work at the dining room table these days because the light is good and the table is large and I can spread out, so to speak. But I also write at the kitchen table and in our sun room and outside and in libraries and even sometimes at my actual desk. The one constant is that I need a quite place to write. I don’t do well with distractions.
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what songs help get the creative juices flowing?
I don’t play music when I write, no. That said, I do listen to music in my “down” time and many times I get ideas from songs. Bob Dylan’s “North Country Fair” was one that inspired me for Precious. The Shins always get me in the mood and give me creative ideas. Lately Fleet Foxes also does that. I’m a huge fan of Paul Simon and Tom Petty, and both of them have inspired me to pen a line or two here and there. Cold Play is my guilty pleasure. I also love “home town” musicians, like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. And REM. I could go on and on there.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Hands down, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules.
What are some things you like to do when you’re not writing?
Eat! My husband and I love all kinds of food: French, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Indian, Greek… (Just writing that makes me hungry!) Dinner out with my husband and friends makes me so entirely happy. As does good wine. I also like to take long walks; exercise; play with my dog, Chloe (she’s a Great Pyrenees); garden; swim; and travel by train, which is just about the least efficient way to travel anywhere.
Are you working on another book? If so, any hints as to what it’s about?
I’m currently working on two projects, the contracted story collection and also a new novel called Resurrection Fern. The novel is set in a small rural town and has a man who has died three times and come back to life, a boy who sustains him in his loneliness, and another man who comes back to town with a secret, a crime he committed thirty years before. The boys gets tangled up in all that. It’s a bit quirkier and funnier than Precious, but the ideas of travel, of family, and of storytelling and memory are all still there.
With regard to writing, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Oh, I think always to try, never to quit, and not to be afraid of rejection. Because a writer’s life is mostly rejection, and you have to embrace that idea to even reach success. Also, read a lot. Published writers–any writers you love–are going to teach you something about craft, if you’re willing to sit down, study the work, and learn.
Thanks, Sandra, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you much success!
Disclosure: I received a copy of Precious from Random House for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.