The degree to which fiction mirrors “real life” (or that one might wish it to, or not) is a popular debate among readers of all genres, many of whom try to speculate on the author’s intentions. On the very first page of East Sider and bestselling author Ann Hood’s newest novel, The Book That Matters Most, locals will find references to PPAC and Weybosset Street. As the book continues, they will also visit the skating rink downtown, the Providence Athenaeum, The Eddy and other familiar haunts.
“I like books that use real, identifiable places, “ says Hood. “Readers get excited by it.”
Certain major themes in the novel – loss, friendship, family, divorce – will also speak to the experiences of many readers. “I write about the stuff that keeps me up at night,” she says, “but the beauty of fiction is that you’re not writing about yourself. Your characters can make different decisions and can understand things that we can’t in this life. They can find true love.”
This interplay between the tangibly identifiable and the imagined adds believability as well as poignancy to Hood’s work. She spent time in Paris while writing The Book That Matters Most, and the loft she stayed in is described almost exactly (it’s Lucien’s apartment, for those who’ve read it).
Hood certainly knows Providence well, having counted herself an East Sider since 1993. A native of West Warwick, she returned to Rhode Island to be with her husband, and chose Fox Point because at the time, it had the most urban feel of Providence’s residential areas. She had just spent 17 years in Greenwich Village and wanted to be able to walk everywhere: to the movies, out for coffee, etc.
Although she never studied writing in school – creative writing classes weren’t offered at the time, and journalism school did not interest her – Hood worked as a flight attendant for TWA for seven years, and would spend trans-Atlantic flights writing while her passengers slept. Her first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, was published by Bantam Books in 1987.
A fun, idiosyncratic image in The Book That Matters Most is when the “other woman” responsible for splitting up protagonist Ava’s marriage keeps “yarn bombing” Providence landmarks, such as the PPAC marquee and the Independent Man atop the statehouse. An avid knitter herself, Hood clarifies that she has nothing against yarn bombing personally, and would even “happily participate in it.” She had however been following news of it since it became popular, and thought the act of soft vandalism would be great to use in a novel somehow. When she read a famous yarn bomber describe it as “taking possession of something that isn’t yours,” she found the perfect metaphor for marital infidelity.
Those who’ve read The Book That Matters Most might be sad to learn that at present, no book clubs meet at the Providence Athenaeum. Perhaps it’s an idea that should be implemented?
If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?
“I would love a really good Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood – I crave great enchiladas and margaritas, which I could get in New York but just haven’t found quite the same here. Tallulah’s has wonderful tacos, but sometimes you just want a big bowl of guacamole. I’d also like another knitting store to open; there was one here for a long time, but it closed.”
Learn more about Ann Hood and her work at AnnHood.us
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