Jill McCorkle's latest novel, Carolina Moon, came to life at her reading at the Cambridge Public Library last Thursday night. After she read from two portions of her novel and asked for questions, someone in the audience expressed the sentiment of the crowd by yelling, "Read more!"
McCorkle's heavy Southern accent added a strong voice to the novel as well as to the characters. She opened with the first chapter which introduces Wallace, a postal worker who is witness to a series of letters written by a female lover to a man who has committed suicide. These letters have appeared at the post office over a number of years, and Wallace's intrigue is shared by to the reader as one wonders how the lover's plot will be revealed. McCorkle explained that these letters are continued through the novel, but not in any chronological order, and they let the reader see into the past relationship of the characters.
After a brief summary with some illuminating details, McCorkle read a humorous passage taped on a cheap recorder bought on the character Denny's journey to her new home. This brassy women is running away from her less than satisfactory marriage-to-a-job as a therapist in Fulerton, North Carolina. Throughout this narrative the audience murmured in agreement with the observations Denny makes about life. She describes her future as a search for love, happiness, "good clothes and leather accessories." McCorkle described Denny as being her alter ego, the character "without a filter." Ironically, Denny and Wallace are McCorkle's editor's favorite characters, but perhaps not her own.
The details that McCorkle accumulated through the last five years led to the interesting history of her colorful characters. McCorkle writes down all her ideas as they materialize in her head, leaving notebooks in every possible location (including one hanging outside her shower.) She called her collection of notes a Pandora's box, and claimed that "most of the stuff for Carolina Moon was already there." One of the characters, McCorkle explained, owned property given to him by his father which is currently under water due to Hurricane Hazel. This reflected a similar story McCorkle heard her own father discussing when she was a child. She laughed as she told the audience her father's friend would go out to the beach and look at his land while the waves rolled over it.
When asked about the character Quee, McCorkle gives away her special fondness for the character with an enthusiastic description and a broad smile. Quee, Denny's godmother, is running a clinic that pampers smokers and in the meanwhile "eases the seams of their clothes," McCorkle explained while trying to stifle a laugh.
When asked about her influences McCorkle expressed her admiration of many Southern writers. Favorites included Truman Capote, Katherine Anne Porter and John Updike. After this list of people, McCorkle exclaimed, "Then I realized I live next door to all these people." McCorkle was raised in Lumberton, North Carolina and graduated from University of North Carolina. She now lives in Cambridge and teaches Creative Writing at Harvard while simultaneously raising a family.