19 May 2014

Thunderstruck Strikes

My science-activity book Soap Science is out of print, but it’s received a dollop of literary immortality in Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection of short stories, Thunderstruck.

In the story “Juliet,” originally published in Esquire, some town librarians look up the record of a kid who’s suddenly in the news for all the wrong reasons. All they find is that two years before he’d borrowed Bell, Soap Science (1993), and never returned it.

I’m pleased to report that the story doesn’t suggest I was a bad influence. Instead, the appearance of Soap Science as what the kid probably borrowed for a school assignment reads as one of many innocuous details—so dutiful, so clean—that don’t add up to an explanation of what’s gone wrong. As in her best-known work, The Giant’s House, Elizabeth McCracken focuses on details of ordinary living in an extraordinary circumstance.

At the time she wrote that story, Elizabeth was working as a librarian outside Boston. We knew each other in high school and crossed paths in local book circles once or twice. Now she’s teaching at the University of Texas and tweeting up a storm.

Elizabeth McCracken is swinging through New England on her book tour this week, including appearances at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Wednesday and Newtonville Books in Newton Centre on Thursday. Unfortunately, I can’t go to either event since I’m heading across the Atlantic this week. So I’m spreading the word about them instead. Check out Thunderstruck. Especially page 70.

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