Features / In Their Own Words

IN HER OWN WORDS: Joan Chase

“I did not approach writing as a career. It came along as a way of expressing myself, the first way I’d found suggestive enough, private and leisurely enough, to be worth the effort of approaching the complexities of living and giving voice to the situation. I never thought of writing as a way to earn a living but as a way of exhausting myself, engaging with my material, using everything I could find, inside and out. I have always had great patience but I think that my patience was squandered and misused without a subject. I imagine too that by the time I began writing, the relief and outlet afforded my morbid and melancholy nature to give rise to an unexpected joyfulness which made the necessary focusing and concentration comparatively uncomplicated.” —Joan Chase, from Contemporary Authors, a bio-bibliographical guide to current writers in fiction


“That the narrator is a ”we” rather than an ”I” is entirely fitting, for this book is about the power – by no means always positive – of the collective female consciousness.” –Margaret Atwood, NY Times review


“On Saturdays in the 1950s, there was a policeman to direct traffic; the sidewalks were crowded with country people, lopsided buckboards vied with flying Oldsmobiles for the right-of-way, the clip-clop of horses sounding on the brick, drawing the wagons and the black-canopied buggies of the plain people, whose faces reflected the timeless, ordered certainty of their innocence. Stone-hewed, stone-blind Samsons of bulging strength ornamented the county courthouse, adding to the general impression of stability and sanctioned self-interest. When we lived there, on the farm which was right on the edge of the city limits, we thought it the very center of the world, and the green and golden land and wooded hollows which began two blocks over from the railroad loop and then rolled off to obscurity formed a natural barrier to the rest of existence, which we dismissed as the outer darkness.” —During the Reign of the Queen of Persia


“She felt dazed, trembling as though she too had made a narrow escape. She might have been with him for that ride, as she’d been with him for so many others. Together they might have gone too far, might have lifted off and flown away. Become sublime, absorbing into the atmosphere, the stratosphere and beyond, to drift in the oldest and blackest, the farthest reaches of endless time.”  —“Black Ice,” from Bonneville Blue


“Mysterious and intriguing to me, [our relatives on farms all over the state] took on mythic stature. My fascination with those obscure lives has never left me and I guess that’s the kind of preoccupation that, over time, can lead someone to take up something as daunting and precarious as writing fiction.” —Joan Chase, interview at Ohioana Authors


“All that summer it seemed hardly to rain, only at night, a little for the earth; the leaves glittered with clean clear light as though the world were hung with mirror fragments – such, Aunt Elinor taught us, was the nature of reality, everything reflecting God.” —During the Reign of the Queen of Persia


“The success of Persia was part of what made it difficult for me to begin a second novel. But I think just being published was equally constraining. For the first time I was aware of an audience as an integral part of the process which makes a book a book. After that it was harder for me to focus on my material and fictional intentions without hearing other voices and responses. I became aware of the critic with increased intensity—another interference in the writing process. How I longed for the good old days of anonymity of isolation… except, of course, I was also delighted to have an audience.” —Joan Chase, from Contemporary Authors


“Indeed, it’s girlhood that is Chase’s most powerful subject. Until relatively recently the literature of American girlhood consisted most famously of children’s books, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairieseries and (if we expand our category to North American literature) L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gablesseries. During the Reign of the Queen of Persia animates the violent eros of girlhood, capturing the way it is by turns visionary, antic, sensual, and cruel. The novel is a reminder that innocence and experience are always entwined.”  —Megan O’Rourke, introduction to the NYRB Classics reprint of During the Reign of the Queen of Persia


“I don’t know where I thought I was going, into the rain, no umbrella, no one at home. Rain sheeted the glass, swirls of paper and twigs sucked along to the storm drain. It was a good thing no one came around until I got control of myself, because I wouldn’t have been able to hide my feelings. Although when your mother’s dead everybody thinks they already know your troubles.”  —The Evening Wolves


“From the street, sitting close in his mother’s coupe, turning toward the highway, I looked back once more to see Uncle Kurt, who had thrilled me to death. Around him and above, the curving porches and towers of the white Victorian edifice arched up high, like the wind-filled sails of the ships that used to run the great Ohio, and he, a dark entrancing captain, stood at the wheel, sighting for grandmothers, elderberries, and souls.”  —“Elderberries and Souls” from Bonneville Blue


“There was too, after writing one novel, the very real question: can I write a second? The first time I had done something in ways that seemed curiously non-reproducible, not even recoverable. Before, one thing had mysteriously led to another, but how to make it happen again? Though it took a long time, starting from scratch, eventually I was able to shut out the outside world and voices and keep to the straight and narrow of following my own concerns…telling the story in the ways that seemed right to me. I found that once again I began to develop a notion of where I was going.” —Joan Chase, from Contemporary Authors


During the Reign of the Queen of Persia is organized musically, with themes recurring in different keys, rather than linearly, along the train-track lines of cause-and-effect plot. Time overlaps and doubles back on itself, so that events are superimposed, as in a palimpsest, or in memory itself, for this is also a novel about memory, about all the things that the collective ‘we’ will be unable, in the unwritten future, to forget. This description makes the book sound difficult to read, which it isn’t: The prose is limpid, the characterization vibrant, the dialogue crisp.” —Margaret Atwood, NY Times review


“[Gram] hung her light woolen coat in the closet and treaded her way up the long curved stair toward the darkness of her room; with everybody home, we felt the fields and sky fold inward to wrap up the house for bed.” —During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

Bloom Post End Click here to read Amy Weldon”s feature on Joan Chase.

One thought on “IN HER OWN WORDS: Joan Chase

  1. Pingback: In the Media: 16th November 2014 | The Writes of Woman

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