Hardbacks David Payne Gravesend Light

ISBN 13: 9780452282629

Gravesend Light

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9780452282629: Gravesend Light

Young anthropologist Joe Madden retreats to his family's summer home on Little Roanoke on North Carolina's Outer Banks to conduct an ethnographic study of the fishermen and their families, taking a job on a fishing boat as part of his study and embarking on a passionate love affair with a feminist doctor at odds with the locals on their views on motherhood and abortion. Reprint.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

From the Author:

Q> What inspired this novel? What was it about Joe Madden that made you want to revisit him as an adult?

I am interested in understanding how who we are in our first families-- those we come from--colors and conditions who we become in our second families, which we make. Having chronicled the decline of Joe Madden's parents' marriage in Ruin Creek, I wondered how the adult Joe might repeat, in his love affair with Day Shaughnessey, May and Jimmy Maddens' dysfunctional patterns. Would Joe, in a sense, "marry his mother" (or her opposite)? Might he even "marry his father"? (Or some combo of both parents?) In other words, would he try to fix, in the here and now, with Day, what was broken in the there and then? And, if he did, might he and Day, through hard-earned understanding, eventually break the cycle and achieve something true, lasting, all their own?

Q> Critical reception for Gravesend Light has been through the roof. What about readers' feedback?

I have been known to peek, on occasion, at the "reader review" postings at amazon.com-- which interest me precisely because they are from real readers vs. reviewers-- and I've been heartened by what I've found. I think perhaps the strangest and most original compliment I've ever received came from another novelist, who wrote me that, "Gravesend Light feels like a beautifully sculptured pair of smooth black pliers have been placed in my mouth and attached to my teeth and the force of the world is pulling on these pliers." I don't know quite what it means, but I like it!

Q> As many readers surely have and will, I fell in love with Day Shaughnessey. Did her voice come easily? What particular sorts of challenges, risks, liberties come with crossing gender lines and inhabiting a female consciousness?

Of course, it's politically risky, in our PC era, to cross gender lines and write from a woman's point of view, but I guess I feel that what serious writing is about--one of the things it's about-- is the attempt to imagine our way out of the solitary cells we inhabit as individuals and to touch and experience otherness, the Other, another. Which is the higher aim, to try, for a few hundred hours, to see and feel the world as a woman might, or to regard female experience as proprietary and forever closed to me because I am a man? Whether one can pull it off, of course, is another matter, and if I can and have, I imagine the reason why goes back to something very old and deep in the earliest time of childhood that made me particularly sensitive to and aware of the moods and feelings of the women in my early environment. I'm really just guessing, because I don't know. The actual experience of writing Jane McCrae in Early from the Dance, May Tilley in Ruin Creek, and now Day Shaughnessey in Gravesend Light was rather like sewing a large, elaborate sail, let's say, putting in the grommets, and so on. Once done and hoisted, though, the wind that filled it was from elsewhere, and I just sat b
ack and took the ride.


Q> What happened with the Oregon Inlet Stabilization Project? Was this an actual controversy in Little Roanoke in the early 1980s? How do things stand today?

There is no such place as Little Roanoke. There is, of course, Roanoke Island, where the Lost Colonists landed and, later, disappeared. Oregon Inlet is real, as is, or was, the Oregon Inlet Stabilization Project. The fishermen there today still want and believe the jetties will be built. Few people outside the fishing community share that view, but I've been told that the project presently has a better chance of resurrection than at any time in the last ten or fifteen years.

Q> What kind of research went on behind the scenes of this book-particularly your vivid evocation of North Carolina's Outer Banks in the early '80s? In your Acknowledgments, you refer to an experience with "the rough charms of commercial fishing"...

After college, instead of going to an MFA program in creative writing, I worked for a year or so in the Atlantic scallop fishery, working on trawlers out of Wanchese, North Carolina, and also in Point Judith, Rhode Island. In 1992, I think it was, as I began to think about and plan Gravesend Light, I realized that my seamanship had become rusty, so I went back to Wanchese looking for a captain who'd let me take a trip. It was a bitter January day on Mill Landing along the waterfront, and everywhere I went in my Saab with green Vermont plates, the fishermen I spoke to glared or, sometimes, laughed outright. Because, sharing a trip, you see, is like living in the intimacy of someone's home for a week or ten days. So, really, why should they have taken me? But as afternoon declined, at the very tip of the island, last stop on the route--the Moon Tillett Fish Co.-- I found two brothers, Craig and Billy Carl Tillett, who remembered the captain I'd fished with (he was dead) and the boat I'd fished on (which had burned and sunk), and on the basis of a fifteen minute conversation, showing the kind of hospitality I tried to describe in the book-- which exists alongside a ferocity that makes the Wanchesers among the most notorious and feared ass-kickers in the Atlantic fishery-- they took me. If the fishing scenes in the book feel authentic, I owe it in large measure to the Tillets, particularly Captain Craig Tillett and the crew of the Linda Gayle.

Q> One of the most compelling aspects of Gravesend Light concerns Joe's gradual recognition of the ways his own identity and experiences will always and inevitably come to bear on his work as an anthropologist. Joe's futile struggle to essentially erase his own voice in his work is tantamount, as Ray says at one point, to being dead. What made you want to tackle these issues?

I suppose I feel that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is key--or a key-- to the zeitgeist of the 20th-century, the notion that the consciousness of the observer helps, in some true sense, to create the "reality" that he or she observes. So the whole 19th-century Newtonian notion of a "really real" external reality independent of the consciousness of our observing minds is bogus. On the whole, I think this is truer than not. And so Joe, as he goes to Little Roanoke to observe the locals, ends up seeing, in these people he barely knows, reflections of himself, his life, his parents' lives, and his search for other leads him in to what Ron Charles in The Christian Science Monitor called, "that first, final and most harrowing subject: himself." (It also strikes me that the shift from a Newtonian to a quantum or relativistic worldview probably accounts, in some sense, for the decline, among novelists, in the third person omniscient point of view and the corresponding increase of first-person writing, but that notion may be more pretty than true.)

Q> Are there any useful parallels to draw between the science of ethnography and the art of storytelling?

Well, getting into or inhabiting a consciousness, or consciousnesses, outside of and other than one's own are key to both. I also think writers, like social scientists, tend to fall into the observer (vs. participant) role. This book is really about someone who has become an observer, is comfortable in that role, and is drawn through a series of crises and opportunities, to step back into the stream of life as a participant. Most of all, it is about crossing the terrifying threshold where intelligent skepticism must give way to faith and where knowledge must give way to love, or else, as Rebecca West puts it, "we walk forever queer and small, like a dwarf."

Q> Gabriel García Márquez has said that there is essentially no difference between what fiction can achieve and what journalism can achieve: "The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and language are the same." How do you weigh in on this? Where do "truth" and "imagination" factor here?

Well, there is factually accurate journalistic truth, which has its uses, and there is factually inaccurate novelistic or artistic truth, which, to me, is deeper-- but I suppose that's obvious, right? Otherwise, I'd be a journalist. In other words, I think imagination is a tool available to artists that is unavailable--or less available--to journalists, and it adds a dimension to art that's not present in journalism. So I don't agree with Marquez. On the other hand- as Joe Madden would say--the better the journalism gets, the closer it gets to fiction. Don't you see this when you read a really good profile in, say, The New Yorker, vs. a newspaper piece? And all this relates back to the point about Heisenberg above. Why? Because the better a writer is, the more likely he or she is to realize that his own personality is an inescapable lens through which his subject MUST be seen. There is no choice. And so you stop fighting it. But if you're writing for a newspaper, even The New York Times, chances are you're still operating off the 19th-century Newtonian assumption that truth is out there existing independently of you, and so you try to erase yourself and the writing, thereby, becomes less interesting and rich.

Q> What would your ideal reader walk away thinking and feeling after finishing Gravesend Light?

When and if I ever find one, I'm hoping he or she will tell ME.

Q> Is Little Roanoke's situation in Gravesend Light unique? What is the future for smalltown America-fishing communities on the Atlantic seaboard and Midwestern farmtowns alike-as our urban/suburban culture continues to explode?

The homogenizing influence of mass culture is everywhere and threatens all traditional social groups, whether fishermen, farmers or hunter-gatherers in the Amazon rainforest.

About the Author:

David Payne is the author of three previous novels: Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, for which he received the prestigious Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award, Early from the Dance, and Ruin Creek, which charts the turbulent marital waters of Joe Madden's parents. Like Joe in Gravesend Light, Payne attended Philips Exeter Academy before going on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. DISCUSSIONQUES: Q> Describe the change Joe Madden undergoes over the course of his project in Little Roanoke. What effects do the events and discoveries of his visit have on his sense of self, both as a son and a lover? And on the way he inhabits his professional identity as an anthropologist? What-and who-are the catalysts for this change?

Q> As Joe stands on the deck of the Father's Price watching the shore recede, he is unsettled by a sudden sense of isolation, "like an astronaut whose tether to the ship is cut." In this moment, from the novel's second chapter, David Payne begins to lay the framework for one of the principle ideas that textures and lends weight to the romance and adventure propelling Joe and Day's story. In what ways does Payne contend with and develop this notion of escaping-of "untethering"-from one's community or cultural tribe?

Q> Along with the previous question, discuss and compare the various ways Payne's themes of cultural, regional, and familial escape play out in the lives of Joe, Day, Ray, and Pate.

Q> What is behind Joe's obsession with the recurring question, "What is the field?" Payne first introduces the question at the close of the Prologue, when he lays out the metaphor involving snowgeese and magnetism. What is Payne up to here? How does Joe's search for "the field" progress through the novel?

Q>: Explain the novel's thematic refrain, "Will the circle be unbroken?" Discuss how the line speaks to and even links the issues surrounding Joe's Boston memory, Day's pregnancy, Reed's bipolar disorder, Joe's return to the Outer Banks, and May and Jimmy's stormy past (the subject of Payne's novel Ruin Creek).

Q> The idea of "doubleness"-of straddling viewpoints, of forever resisting personal choice-is perfectly embodied by Joe Madden when we first meet him. Identify and discuss all the doubleness at work in the many contradictory twosomes Payne highlights and contends with in his narrative (e.g.: pro-life/pro-choice; straight/gay; environmentalist/capitalist; embattled townies/colonizing outsiders...).

Q> What pitfalls, emotional or otherwise, does Joe encounter in his dogged commitment to professional distance and objectivity?

Q> What sort of a novel is Gravesend Light? A love story? A sea adventure? A novel of clashing cultures, of the intersection of the political and the personal? A study of contentious American regionalism? How would you describe this book to a friend?

Q> David Payne's prose is widely admired by critics and readers. What is it that distinguishes his writing? What are the specific qualities that characterize his narrative style? What techniques does the author use to establish the novel's mixture of romance and action, and how does he manage to situate and distill Gravesend Light's complex emotional landscapes and political/social minefields into a narrative that feels so intimate?

Q> In considering Payne's writing style further, it might be interesting for your group to choose a passage or two from Gravesend Light to look at and discuss in more detail (e.g.: the brief but loaded Prologue; Joe and Day's first date; or one of the climactic scenes on the Father's Price during the storm).

Q> As an anthropologist, Joe Madden is a "professional unraveler of mysteries." What are the various mysteries underlying the conflicts and tensions in this book? Do any mysteries remain at the end of the book, deemed unsolvable by Payne's hero and heroine? Explain.

Q> Discuss the narrative structure of Gravesend Light. Dropping us into the middle of the action, Payne works both backward and forward in time in roughly alternating chapters and steadily brings us back to where we were first heading in the Prologue before he guides us toward the climax. How does this circular organization enrich the mystery and emotional suspense built over the course of the novel? (Consider also: How does the narrative circle underscore the novel's explorations of family and the persistence of memory? "Will the circle be unbroken?")

Q> Joe Madden is, among other things, a man struggling to emerge from the shadow cast by his father's failure and aggressive abandonment. How successful is he, finally, in doing so? To what degree, in the backward light of his brief reunion with his father, would you say that Joe has healed?

Q> What does the future hold for Day and Joe? For Pate? Imagine an Epilogue that takes place two years after the last chapter. What has happened?

Q> Discuss the way David Payne's narrative establishes a dual meaning of "covenant": as a kind of sacred pact with God on one hand, and as a mandate to pursue one's personal aspirations and discover one's potential on the other. How does Joe's notion of covenant compare to John Calvin's? To Day's?

Q> Look again at Chapter Eleven, which features the pivotal argument between Joe and Day about Pate's ordeal. Unpack all that is going on in this scene. Where do you weigh in on the issues with which Payne's characters are grappling?

Q> Do you identify more with Joe or Day? Do you consider yourself a person who generally resists choice and involvement in order to see more clearly both sides of an issue? Or are you a person who, like Day, valorizes the act of choosing, who sees choice not just as an individual's right-but also as an individual's obligation? How did you feel about Pate's situation as you read?

Q> Discuss the character of Ray Bristow, the man Joe recognizes as Little Roanoke's "most competent speaker." What was your reaction to Ray initially, and how did it evolve as you read? Could we possibly argue that Ray, in the end, is the tragic hero of Payne's story? Explain.

Q> "You don't believe in nothing," Ray tells Joe in Chapter Thirteen. "You think doubting and questioning everything makes you strong. But it don't; it makes you weak.... I didn't want to be your spy or science project. I wanted you to see me as a human being." Reread Ray's extended characterization of Joe in this chapter. Is it accurate? How fair is it to say that Joe exploited Ray's openness and friendship for professional purposes? Explain.

Q> How does the far-reaching impact of the painful night in the Boston hotel room reveal itself in the action of the novel? Where can we see it at work in Joe's present life, whether in his relationship with Day, in his ambivalent stew of feelings about his mother and Reed, or, perhaps most tellingly of all, in the particular profession to which he has chosen to devote himself? AUTHCOMMENTS: Q> What inspired this novel? What was it about Joe Madden that made you want to revisit him as an adult?

I am interested in understanding how who we are in our first families-- those we come from--colors and conditions who we become in our second families, which we make. Having chronicled the decline of Joe Madden's parents' marriage in Ruin Creek, I wondered how the adult Joe might repeat, in his love affair with Day Shaughnessey, May and Jimmy Maddens' dysfunctional patterns. Would Joe, in a sense, "marry his mother" (or her opposite)? Might he even "marry his father"? (Or some combo of both parents?) In other words, would he try to fix, in the here and now, with Day, what was broken in the there and then? And, if he did, might he and Day, through hard-earned understanding, eventually break the cycle and achieve something true, lasting, all their own? Q> Critical reception for Gravesend Light has been through the roof. What about readers' feedback?

I have been known to peek, on occasion, at the "reader review" postings at amazon.com-- which interest me precisely because they are from real readers vs. reviewers (though, of course, there's some manipulation at that site)-- and I've been heartened by what I've found. I think perhaps the strangest and most original compliment I've ever received came from another novelist, who wrote me that, "Gravesend Light feels like a beautifully sculptured pair of smooth black pliers have been placed in my mouth and attached to my teeth and the force of the world is pulling on these pliers." I don't know quite what it means, but I like it!

Q> As many readers surely have and will, I fell in love with Day Shaughnessey. Did her voice come easily? What particular sorts of challenges, risks, liberties come with crossing gender lines and inhabiting a female consciousness?

Of course, it's politically risky, in our PC era, to cross gender lines and write from a woman's point of view, but I guess I feel that what serious writing is about--one of the things it's about-- is the attempt to imagine our way out of the solitary cells we inhabit as individuals and to touch and experience otherness, the Other, another. Which is the higher aim, to try, for a few hundred hours, to see and feel the world as a woman might, or to regard female experience as proprietary and forever closed to me because I am a man? Whether one can pull it off, of course, is another matter, and if I can and have, I imagine the reason why goes back to something very old and deep in the earliest time of childhood that made me particularly sensitive to and aware of the moods and feelings of the women in my early environment. I'm really just guessing, because I don't know. The actual experience of writing Jane McCrae in Early from the Dance, May Tilley in Ruin Creek, and now Day Shaughnessey in Gravesend Light was rather like sewing a large, elaborate sail, let's say, putting in the grommets, and so on. Once done and hoisted, though, the wind that filled it was from elsewhere, and I just sat b
ack and took the ride.


Q> What happened with the Oregon Inlet Stabilization Project? Was this an actual controversy in Little Roanoke in the early 1980s? How do things stand today?

There is no such place as Little Roanoke. There is, of course, Roanoke Island, where the Lost Colonists landed and, later, disappeared. Oregon Inlet is real, as is, or was, the Oregon Inlet Stabilization Project. The fishermen there today still want and believe the jetties will be built. Few people outside the fishing community share that view, but I've been told that the project presently has a better chance of resurrection than at any time in the last ten or fifteen years.

Q> What kind of research went on behind the scenes of this book-particularly your vivid evocation of North Carolina's Outer Banks in the early '80s? In your Acknowledgments, you refer to an experience with "the rough charms of commercial fishing"...

After college, instead of going to an MFA program in creative writing, I worked for a year or so in the Atlantic scallop fishery, working on trawlers out of Wanchese, North Carolina, and also in Point Judith, Rhode Island. In 1992, I think it was, as I began to think about and plan Gravesend Light, I realized that my seamanship had become rusty, so I went back to Wanchese looking for a captain who'd let me take a trip. It was a bitter January day on Mill Landing along the waterfront, and everywhere I went in my Saab with green Vermont plates, the fishermen I spoke to glared or, sometimes, laughed outright. Because, sharing a trip, you see, is like living in the intimacy of someone's home for a week or ten days. So, really, why should they have taken me? But as afternoon declined, at the very tip of the island, last stop on the route--the Moon Tillett Fish Co.-- I found two brothers, Craig and Billy Carl Tillett, who remembered the captain I'd fished with (he was dead) and the boat I'd fished on (which had burned and sunk), and on the basis of a fifteen minute conversation, showing the kind of hospitality I tried to describe in the book-- which exists alongside a ferocity that makes the Wanchesers among the most notorious and feared ass-kickers in the Atlantic fishery-- they took me. If the fishing scenes in the book feel authentic, I owe it in large measure to the Tillets, particularly Captain Craig Tillett and the crew of the Linda Gayle.

Q> One of the most compelling aspects of Gravesend Light concerns Joe's gradual recognition of the ways his own identity and experiences will always and inevitably come to bear on his work as an anthropologist. Joe's futile struggle to essentially erase his own voice in his work is tantamount, as Ray says at one point, to being dead. What made you want to tackle these issues?

I suppose I feel that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is key--or a key-- to the zeitgeist of the 20th-century, the notion that the consciousness of the observer helps, in some true sense, to create the "reality" that he or she observes. So the whole 19th-century Newtonian notion of a "really real" external reality independent of the consciousness of our observing minds is bogus. On the whole, I think this is truer than not. And so Joe, as he goes to Little Roanoke to observe the locals, ends up seeing, in these people he barely knows, reflections of himself, his life, his parents' lives, and his search for other leads him in to what Ron Charles in The Christian Science Monitor called, "that first, final and most harrowing subject: himself." (It also strikes me that the shift from a Newtonian to a quantum or relativistic worldview probably accounts, in some sense, for the decline, among novelists, in the third person omniscient point of view and the corresponding increase of first-person writing, but that notion may be more pretty than true.)

Q> Are there any useful parallels to draw between the science of ethnography and the art of storytelling?

Well, getting into or inhabiting a consciousness, or consciousnesses, outside of and other than one's own are key to both. I also think writers, like social scientists, tend to fall into the observer (vs. participant) role. This book is really about someone who has become an observer, is comfortable in that role, and is drawn through a series of crises and opportunities, to step back into the stream of life as a participant. Most of all, it is about crossing the terrifying threshold where intelligent skepticism must give way to faith and where knowledge must give way to love, or else, as Rebecca West puts it, "we walk forever queer and small, like a dwarf."

Q> Gabriel García Márquez has said that there is essentially no difference between what fiction can achieve and what journalism can achieve: "The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and language are the same." How do you weigh in on this? Where do "truth" and "imagination" factor here?

Well, there is factually accurate journalistic truth, which has its uses, and there is factually inaccurate novelistic or artistic truth, which, to me,...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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