Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Interview With Author Rebecca Kaiser Gibson


1.      What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book?  Well, this is a wild story!  I had written sections of this book for years, decades actually I don’t think I ever felt “forced,” if anything, the writing of the book happened almost without intention- difficult as that may be to believe.  I just kept writing sections never even thinking they were to be connected.  I wrote it over decades, during breaks in the teaching year, and in between poems and books of poetry. During the first winter of the pandemic -- I’d stopped teaching the year before -- I went to clear out some boxes in my closet, and discovered all these pieces of prose.  Having had the experience of putting together two poetry books, I found myself able to orchestrate the novel in a whole new way – interspersing decades (in hopes that the experience of later events were somehow suggested by the female, unnamed, narrator’s early years.) 

2.      What is it about and who is it for? It is about a young, alert, but oddly isolated woman whose understanding of the world is a scattershot collection of tidbits – though she grew up in an upper middle-class household in a stable family.  Here is a description of it:

Hailed as “radiant and transporting” (MargotLivesey), The Promise of a Normal Life is a poet’s debut novel, so evocative of life as lived that it transports you to a time and place you can practically see, touch, and feel. The unnamed narrator is a fiercely observant, introverted Jewish-American girl who seems to exist in a private and separate realm. She's the child of a first-generation doctor and lawyer—whose own stories have the loud grandeur of family legend—in an America where Jews are excluded from the country club across the street. Her expectations for adulthood are often contradictory. In the changing landscape of the 1960s, she attempts to find her way through the rituals of life, her geography expanding across the country, across the ocean, and into multiple nations.

Along the way, she meets a glamorous hairdresser on a cruise ship to Israel, loopy tarot-card- reading passengers, and Alice-in-Wonderland lawyers in Haifa. There’s a blue-eyed all-American college boyfriend, a mystified tourist agent in the Lofoten Islands, a handsome eligible rabbi in LA, a righteous and self-absorbed MIT professor, and a clandestine, calculating lover in Boston. Eventually, she finds her own compass, but only after being swept to several distant shores by many winds.


Who it’s for: women, partners, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of girls; people who are married; people who had what seemed to be solitary journeys in unspoken quests to find where they fit and with whom; people who are raised more or less Jewish without a learned breadth of experience or understanding of the religion. And, as I indicate in the dedication, it is “for” all those people who lived solitary childhoods in the midst of people who were not unkind, but self-absorbed. People who had no one with whom to do reality checks and so were left to come up with understandings on their own.


3.      What takeaways might the reader will be left with after reading it? Perhaps the reader will take away a sense of what a young person who is not saying much or asking anything is navigating, or thinks she’s navigating.  Perhaps their compassion will be enlarged.  Or perhaps, they will be delighting in shared memory of objects, smells, tastes etc. that no longer exist but that populated their own childhoods.


4.      How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design? Between us, this was not my original title, but a phrase someone used in describing the book.  But once I heard it, I realized that it was just right. On the one hand it could briefly seem to be sincere, until one remembers that that there is no Normal.  On a deeper level it speaks of the narrator’s pattern of heading in a direction that appears to indicate “normality,” that is offered to her in books and movies and the snippets of story she hears about other people’s lives, and the hope, on her part, that she will somehow “get” it, the way other people seem to.


The cover was the result of many, many attempts to capture the spirit of the book, suggest its content, but not nail it down in a rigid and inaccurate way.  After abstractions, and paintings, the graphic linear image of a female was brought to our attention by the designer at Arcade. It seemed just right in its indirect gaze; it’s self-engagement; it’s unawareness of being gazed upon.  We worked on the font too, and agreed on the italicized, small caps lack of proclamation quality of it. And finally, I was delighted with the green we choose, given all the pink, yellow and blue covers I’d seen in bookstores.


5.      What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? Keep going!  You never know where your efforts will take you, how your insights in one area will inform your next steps.  Don’t worry, just proceed. So often, instinct turns out to be instructive.


6.      What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? Though I am impressed by the global scope and ability to at least appear to calibrate things that Amazon has achieved, I am alarmed at its predatory stance, and that that stance seems so overly quantitatively determined.  That publishing seems to be offered on the basis of Amazonian numbers is mind-boggling.  Also, I’m glad that the recent decision to prevent Penguin from acquiring Simon & Schuster came down as it did.  Authors need a variety of presses not a monolith.


7.      What challenges did you overcome to write this book? My own lack of confidence or even awareness that I had something or that anyone would be interested in reading it.  But even that had a benefit in that I waited and learned things without intention and when I came back to the prose, I had new ideas about structure that perked up my own interest in the book.


8.      How would you describe your writing style? Hmm.Would you mind if I get other people to characterize it?  Here are some words from the blurbs on the book:


"Rebecca Kaiser Gibson writes with a poet’s precision and a novelist’s sense of character as she deftly evokes her narrator’s family, childhood summers, friendships, travels, and love affairs. The result is a radiant and transporting novel which carries the reader along with its wonderful sense of time and place."—Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in The Field


“A liquid voice describes the tenuous journey of a young, unsure girl into womanhood. Each line is considered, tells a story unto itself. This is pure gold.”—Andy Weinberger, author of the Amos Parisman Mystery Series

“The Promise of a Normal Life is an exquisitely written book. Rebecca Kaiser Gibson's debut follows an unnamed protagonist who often rebels against her dominant and powerful mother by acquiescing to the desires of the men she loves, believing her ability to thrive hinges on compliance. The novel unfolds in a riveting series of experiences that interrogate womanhood, desire, religion, race, and privilege on the path to personal liberation. It is a novel that haunts through restraint.”—Cleyvis Natera, author of Neruda on the Park


9.      If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours? Ummm. Well, perhaps the book can be seen as an antidote to the frantic atmosphere of group-think we are breathing these days.  It is quiet and personal, the internal life of an individual who is fascinated and limited in her understandings, as we all are.


About The Author: Rebecca Kaiser Gibson is the author of the poetry collections Girl as Birch and Opinel. Her work has appeared in Slate, Agni, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Northwest Review, the Massachusetts Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Harvard Review, Green Mountain Review, Pleiades, and many other magazines. She taught creative writing at Tufts University for twenty-three years and has received writing fellowships from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Marlborough, NH. For more information, please see:


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