Last night Helene Wecker spoke in Richmond, talking about the success and route to publication of her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni (Amazon|B&N|Powell’s|Goodreads). Her book has spent time in the awards ring already, and she was in town because it was this year’s winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. After reading she shared the stage for a Q&A with her agent, Sam Stoloff, moderated by VCU creative writing MFA alumna Shannon O’Neill. The reading was good, the discussion was lively, and the line for the signing afterward was off the chain.
I attended in part because I was volunteering, given the nature of my work at the library, but I was also attending out of my own interest. I read The Golem and the Jinni late last year when I was temporarily laid up with a bad back, and the book was very much part of the medicine that made me well. It’s the kind of book that could sweep you away by virtue of its lyrical prose alone, even if the story weren’t excellent. Both are excellent, in fact, and I encourage you to give the book a try if you like folklore, things mythopoeic, or the turn of the last century.
It should go without saying, but this book is one of that new breed of novels that straddles with remarkable comfort the old divide between genre and literary. The conceit of the book arose, as she said on stage, from her years of reading in genre and thinking about its tropes. The prose benefits from years of revision and what she learned in getting her MFA. I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Helene at the end of the signing, and what she had to say was of a piece with what you can find on her site and what she said on stage: she genuinely loves and is knowledgeable on a range of fiction.
Tomorrow I’m headed off to the World Fantasy Convention, where The Golem and the Jinni is up for the Novel award. She faces some serious competition, but whatever the outcome of that may be, I think the book will have legs. It’s a cliche to say that genre’s strength is story, and literary fiction’s is style, but I think this is one case where the author has welded together the best of both worlds. I usually sketch speakers in one medium or another at readings or events, and last night I was powerfully struck by Helen’s words about her process (and I hope, should she read this, that she’ll forgive my artistic license). The publishing treadmill rarely seems to allow for books that percolate for so many years. Hers is, of course, an object lesson in why more should.