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Francine and Colville were childhood friends whose families belonged to an extreme religion, the Church Universal and Triumphant, whose members built elaborate underground shelters to protect themselves from a nuclear apocalypse that never came. Reunited twenty years later by the search for an abducted girl, Francine and Colville must reckon with the powerful memories of their former church's teachings and the haunting feeling of leading adult lives in a world they once believed would be destroyed.
Through meticulous research coupled with vivid imagination, Peter Rock brings to life a curious and vibrant fictional universe and a story about how early religious indoctrination is not easily discarded.
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Author One-on-One: Adam Johnson and Peter Rock
Adam Johnson is the author of the novel The Orphan Master's Son, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. An Associate Professor at Stanford University, he has also won a Whiting Award, a grant from the NEA, and other honors. He's also the author of the novel Parasites Like Us and the short story collection Emporium. His work has appeared in magazines such as Esquire, Harper's, Tin House and The Paris Review, and has been included in The Best American Short Stories and other anthologies. He lives in San Francisco, California, with his family.
Adam Johnson: Pete, your new novel is beautiful and haunting. It seems like you create a new world for each of your books. What drew you to this realm, and how did you conjure it?
Peter Rock: On a basic level I was drawn to this world because it was cool--people dressed in violet, preparing underground shelters in Montana with the prospect of living there for up to seven years, weathering the apocalypse? That intrigued me. And my curiosity was exacerbated because I was working as a ranch hand on a ranch very nearby during the time they call "the shelter cycle"--1986-1990. So it was a combination of curiosity and sentimentality that drew me back to that time. I wanted to know how why they did those things, and I also wonder how it would be to prepare for the end of the world, to go underground, and then to surface and live in a world that you believed might no longer exist. How did I conjure the world of my book? I just tried to get as deeply into the beliefs and landscape of the church, into the people, and then to write my way out.
AJ: Which makes sense, because the times we hung out during the years you were working on this book, you often seemed kind of unhinged. What were some of the challenges of trying to find your way back?
PR: I don't know that I've come all the way back, or I ever will! I mean, part of the challenge was the sheer amount of cosmology and information that I wanted to share, to convey that dramatically--the book grew to over a 1,000 pages, and now it's just over 200. Also, the process of learning about the church and talking to people exposed my own lack of spiritual beliefs, so that made the writing a different kind of journey. Finally, it was the actual people, since their real stories and my relationships with them were so crucial to the novel, but also complicated the act of writing fiction.
AJ: How did you meet these people? What were the interviews like?
PR: Well, I was fortunate to find that a young woman I knew a little, who had been a student at Reed College, where I teach, had been a child in this church, and her father had built a shelter for about ten families, seventy people. She'd moved back to Bozeman, and I think was ready to come to terms with these parts of her past (her family had left the church long ago). So, through her generosity I learned a lot, and gradually she introduced me to others, and the hours of interviews accumulated until I was in a process and series of interactions unlike any I'd know. I guess I had interviews that became uncomfortable--sometimes people got angry, or defensive, or emotional in the recollection of their past, but sometimes it was just the nature of the conversation. For instance, one man, still a believer, took hold of me and asserted that "You and I are not physical beings, we're spiritual beings in these envelopes of flesh, and we're fortunate to meet in this physical plane and be able to have this conversation"--at first I was fearful, but after a short time I realized, "hey, this isn't so different from how I understand the world."
In a more specific way, two main things that startled me, when talking to people who'd been children in the church, really shaped my book: first, they described their childhoods so positively, so full of wonders--surrounded by invisible spirits that were protecting and helping them, given so much freedom in this beautiful landscape; they and their families had a truth that so few did, and they were using it to save the world; of course this was all in the context of the shelters, which one person described as "the coolest forts in the world," so far underground. And then the flipside of that wonder was that these same people, grown up and having left the church long ago, always found themselves revisited by the beliefs. In times of stress--danger, or life changes, pregnancy--they often found themselves decreeing (chanting) or praying these old prayers, acting in ways they thought they'd forgotten. There was this vestigial belief in them that they wished they could excise. They felt like there was something unpredictable, planted inside them, that they could not control.
AJ: I know you went into shelters. What happened down there?
PR: It was overwhelming. I mean, it was a little like traveling back to the eighties--all those artifacts, all that redwood paneling--but it was also traveling back into the memories and pasts of people I knew, and people who had since died. A little like a crypt? Or a monument to a potential future that didn't come to pass. All the children's clothing, the gas masks, the classrooms and generators, the radiation suits. And then I had this eerie sense, when down there, that I was inside my own head, walking around and around in the synapses, somehow, and living inside a story I was writing.About the Author:
PETER ROCK is the author of four novels, including The Bewildered, and a collection of stories, The Unsettling. He teaches writing at Reed College and lives in Portland, Oregon.
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Book Description Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1470843250
Book Description Blackstone Audio Inc, 2013. CMD. Condition: Brand New. unabridged edition. 5.75x5.25x0.75 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # zk1470843250
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