One of our recommended books is The Lives of Edie Pritchard by Larry Watson

THE LIVES OF EDIE PRITCHARD


From acclaimed novelist Larry Watson, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms.

Edie—smart, self‑assured, beautiful—always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and later, she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Really, Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. Two brothers fought over her. Her second husband became unreasonably possessive and jealous. Her daughter resented her. And now, as a grandmother,

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From acclaimed novelist Larry Watson, a multigenerational story of the West told through the history of one woman trying to navigate life on her own terms.

Edie—smart, self‑assured, beautiful—always worked hard. She worked as a teller at a bank, she worked to save her first marriage, and later, she worked to raise her daughter even as her second marriage came apart. Really, Edie just wanted a good life, but everywhere she turned, her looks defined her. Two brothers fought over her. Her second husband became unreasonably possessive and jealous. Her daughter resented her. And now, as a grandmother, Edie finds herself harassed by a younger man. It’s been a lifetime of proving that she is allowed to exist in her own sphere. The Lives of Edie Pritchard tells the story of one woman just trying to be herself, even as multiple men attempt to categorize and own her.

Triumphant, engaging, and perceptive, Watson’s novel examines a woman both aware of her physical power and constrained by it, and how perceptions of someone in a small town can shape her life through the decades.

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  • Algonquin
  • Hardcover
  • July 2020
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781616209025

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$27.95

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About Larry Watson

Larry Watson is the author of The Lives of Edie PritchardRaised in Bismarck, North Dakota, Larry Watson is the author of ten critically acclaimed books, including the bestselling Montana 1948. His fiction has been published internationally and has received numerous prizes and awards. His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and other periodicals. He and his wife live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A film adaptation of Watson’s novel Let Him Go is currently in production with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and due to release in 2020.

Praise

“Set mostly in eastern Montana, Watson’s vibrant character study reads like a trio of scintillating novellas, each set 20 years apart . . .  Like in the best works of Richard Ford and Elizabeth Strout, Watson shows off a keen eye for regional details, a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and an affinity for sharp characterization. This triptych is richly rewarding.” Publishers Weekly

“Watson remains incapable of creating characters who aren’t fully formed individuals, as courageous as they are vulnerable, and here he again displays his rare ability to craft strong women and to describe their everyday lives with rare power.”Booklist, starred review

“Watson is insightful in his depiction of Edie and those who seek to control her, and his descriptions of small-town Montana life, where guns are frequently a menacing presence, reflect how the potential for violence is ever present beneath the surface of things. The novel crackles with tension, especially the second and third acts; Watson is a born storyteller, and it shows on every understated page. But Edie’s story also rings with a hardscrabble poetry . . . A riveting and tense examination of identity, violence, and female anger.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Discussion Questions

1. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner wrote, “In nearly all . . . fiction, the basic—all but inescapable—plot form is: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his [sic] own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.” What does Edie want, and what stands in the way of her getting what she wants? Does she win, lose, or come to a draw?

2. There are actual twins in The Lives of Edie Pritchard, but throughout the narrative there are elements—characters, episodes, incidents—that parallel others. What are some of those examples of “twinning” in the novel? What are the effects of those similarities?

3. Important conversations and significant moments in the novel often occur in automobiles. What do you make of that?

4. How does Edie change over the years? How does she remain unchanged?

5. Roy Linderman figures importantly in all three parts of the novel. How does he change over the years? How does he remain unchanged?

6. Mother and daughter relationships loom large in the novel. How do they add to our understanding of Edie and her world?

7. Gladstone, Montana, is the setting for important action in all three sections. It’s Edie’s hometown, and though she doesn’t seem nostalgic or overly fond of it, she keeps going back. Why? What keeps bringing her back and what finally keeps her there?

8. So much of the novel is dialogue and action. What are some effects of the story being told through those narrative modes?

9. Have you ever been treated like Edie? Have you seen others treated like her?

1o. After Edie leaves Gladstone in 1968, Roy Linderman is largely absent from her life. Yet he’s present at crucial moments in later years. How would you characterize the relationship between them? Does it change over time?

11. On more than one occasion Roy Linderman asks Edie to go away with him. Why is “going away” so important to his proposal?

12. How do Edie’s relationships with women differ from her relationships with men?

13. There are many minor characters in the novel—Mildred Linderman, Gary Dunn, Rita Real Bird, George Real Bird, Lauren Keller, to name just a few. What importance do these characters have to the overall narrative?

14. Did you return to your hometown and if not, why not?

15. Did you hope that Edie and Roy would eventually end up together? Why didn’t it happen?

Excerpt

1967–68

Sunlight glints off the slope of the hood like a snowdrift, and Roy Linderman puts on his sunglasses. Like a man born to drive, he lets one arm hang out the window of his Chevy Impala while the other rests on top of the steering wheel to keep the big car in line.

The air flowing through the car is as hot as the August wind blowing across the prairie, and to make himself heard above the rush and the steady rumble of the Chevy, Roy raises his voice. “How do you know it isn’t the flu?” he asks. “Maybe we’ll all get it.”

“My aunt in Bozeman is a nurse,” Edie says, “and she says it’s almost always something people ate.”

“And what makes you so sure it was the hot dog?”

“Please. Sitting all day in that greasy water? It was the hot dog.”

“And you didn’t eat one? So you’re safe.”

“That’s right,” Edie says. “I’m safe.”

“When we were kids, whatever was going around, he got. Measles. Mumps. Chicken pox. Like maybe with twins, only one of us had to get it. And Dean would be the one and it’d pass me by. Strep throat. Tonsillitis. He had his tonsils out and I still got mine.”

“I remember when he had strep.” She gives her head a rueful little shake. “I remember that very well.”

“I wondered if maybe you did,” Roy says.

On every side of them, nothing rises more than knee-high, and the wheatgrass, needlegrass, blue grama, and fescue—all the color of a sweat-stained straw hat—bend down lower in the direction they’re always bent, west to east.

“What are we going after again?” Edie asks.

“It’s a 1951 GMC half ton. Low miles.”

“How did you find out about it?”

“It’s Les Moore’s uncle’s. The uncle had to sell his ranch, so he doesn’t need the truck.”

“Doesn’t anyone else want it?”

“Hell yes. But we’ll get there first.”

Ahead a dust cloud, high and thick enough to tint a corner of the sky a darker blue, swirls, and well before they draw close, they can taste its dirt. “The hell,” Roy says. “Someone’s plowing something. Close the windows.”

They both crank up their windows, then Edie crawls over the seat to get to the rear windows. She has to swing one bare leg, then the other past Roy’s head, and he takes his eyes off the road to watch her make this climb.

“Stay back there,” he says. “You can roll them down again in a minute.”

As the windows close, the air changes pitch from a steady whoosh to a fast-paced thump, as if a propeller powered their vehicle. Then the interior suddenly quiets, and their voices lower as though they’ve entered a church.

“My God,” Edie says and draws a deep breath. “It’s like the inside of an oven.”

“I’m never getting a car again without air-conditioning,” Roy says. “I swear it.”

Edie keeps one hand on the window crank.

“Your place gets plenty warm, doesn’t it?” says Roy. “I told Dean anytime you two need a good night’s sleep, come on over and you can have my bedroom. Air-conditioned comfort. You can’t beat it for sleeping.”

“And turn you out of your bed? Where would you sleep?”

“I can always find someplace to bunk down.”

“I bet you can.”

“Or maybe you want your own unit? If the store has any left at the end of the season, they always put them on big sale. I could use my discount and get you an even better price.”

“We’ll let you know.”

“Talk it over with Dean,” Roy says, then twists his head as though he needs to know exactly where she is in the back seat.

“We’ll let you know.”

In another minute the sky clears back to its undifferentiated blue. Roy says, “You can roll them back down. And get back up here. I’m not your chauffeur.”

The truth is, Edie would rather remain in the back seat, out of Roy’s reach. These brothers . . . For some time now, Dean has acted as though he’s been warned to keep his hands off her. Even in bed, he sleeps on a narrow space away from her. Meanwhile, Roy has been . . . well, Roy. Could it be that desire is something like mumps or measles, one brother coming down with it while it passes the other by?

Edie points a finger straight ahead. “Take me to the thee-a-tah, my good man.”

“And I’m sure as hell not your good man.”

As Edie climbs over the seat again, Roy reaches out a hand, but whatever he was going to do, he must think better of it because he puts his hand back on the steering wheel. Once she settles back into her seat however, he takes his hat from where it’s been resting in the space between them and tosses it into the back.

Roy asks, “You ever been up to Bentrock?”

“When I was a little girl,” Edie says, “my dad took us up to Canada. Just drove across the border and turned around and came back again. So we could say we’d been there. Would we have gone through Bentrock then?”

“You might have.”

“Then I might have been there.”

“Well, whatever you remember, it hasn’t changed since.”

Edie slips off her flimsy rubber sandals and hooks her toes up on the lip of the dashboard.

“You’ll probably get your feet dirty today,” Roy says. “I don’t think Bentrock’s got but the one paved street.”

“I thought I’d wait in the car.”

“Hell no. I need you to keep him distracted during the negotiations.”

“Really? What was Dean’s job going to be?”

“Drive. That’s all. Just drive.”

Roy takes a pack of Camels from the pocket of his white shirt and shakes a cigarette up to his lips. He offers the pack to Edie, then pulls it back. “I forgot. You don’t smoke.”

He pushes in the lighter. A moment later it pops out, and he presses its glowing coils to his cigarette. He inhales deeply and when he exhales, the wind whips the stream of smoke out the window. “Don’t you have any vices, Edie?”

“You know better than to ask me that.”

Roy turns his head toward her and with his finger slowly traces in the air the length of Edie’s bare leg. “Tell me something,” he says. “How do you get so tan working in the bank all day?”

Edie quickly lowers both feet to the floor. She says, “We’ve got a folding chair we set up behind the building. During breaks and lunch hour, I sit back there. And I’m out on weekends of course.”

“I wouldn’t think you’d get much sun in that alley.” Roy pinches his cigarette between his lips and extends both arms. “Me? I’m like a steak cooked on just one side.”

The car floats over the centerline, and Edie starts to reach for the steering wheel, but then Roy takes hold of it once again.

“About the only time I get out of the store,” he says, “it’s in the car, and then one arm hangs out the window and the other doesn’t get any sun at all.”

The only other car visible on this stretch of highway is at least a couple miles ahead, and then it vanishes, curving its way into the first of a series of low hills, each stitched to the next with a narrow dark strip of cottonwood or bur oak.

“Now you,” Roy says, “you probably have to hike your skirt up plenty high to get so much sun.” He leans forward to look at her. “And maybe undo a button or two.”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Of course with those miniskirts you’ve taken to wearing . . .”

“For God’s sake, Roy. Can’t we have a normal conversation?”

Roy smiles the smile of a man confident of its power to heal or beguile. “Why sure, Edie. What did you want to talk about?”

But she says nothing and turns her head away from her brother-in-law. She knows women whose husbands would never let their wives get into a car with Roy Linderman. But not Dean. No, not Dean.

 

 

Essay

Do You Know This Woman?

by Larry Watson

My family is rife with twins.

My great-grandfather was a twin, my mother was a twin, aunts, uncles, cousins, a nephew and a niece are all twins. And as I learned in 2013, this preponderance of twins is an occurrence not limited to my closest relatives.

That was the year I attended a Fisketjon family reunion in Bismarck, North Dakota, my hometown. Over a hundred descendants came to the event, among them contingents from Norway, Guam, and throughout the United States. I received an invitation because my grandmother (who gave birth to two sets of twins) was a Fisketjon. She immigrated to the United States from Norway, as did a good many other Fisketjons.

At a banquet on the final night, my cousin (whose father was a twin) stood up and asked the assemblage how many of them were twins or had twins in their immediate families. So many raised their hands—many more than the statistical average birth rate for twins. A rush of twin stories followed, most of them humorous and one or two heartbreaking. As you would expect, many of the anecdotes featured mistaken identities, even though, as genetics decrees, most of the sets of twins were fraternal.

But of course, twins needn’t be identical to cause confusion. I remember as a child listening to my mother and her twin sister visiting in another room. I couldn’t tell who was talking, and when the conversation became a heated argument, I couldn’t tell whose position was whose.

Was it at the Fisketjon reunion when I decided I would do something more with twinship in my fiction? It might have been. In previous novels and stories, I’d often included twins, but mostly those characters had simply been a way to pay homage to my clan. Twins as primary characters, I thought, would allow me to explore a theme that had always interested me: uncertainty about identity. I began to work on a novel whose working title was Edie and the Linderman Twins, and as originally conceived, the story featured twin brothers who were in love with the same woman.

But something happened in the writing that I hadn’t expected. It was not the twins, but Edie, the woman they loved, who came to dominate the story, largely because she was the one who embodied the theme of confused identity. The confusion, however, was not in how Edie saw herself—or how she saw the Linderman twins—but in how others saw her. Pragmatic and unpretentious, she was a woman with a realistic sense of self. But she was also beautiful, and beauty often blinds people to qualities of heart and mind that can be every bit as rare as beauty.

Edie possessed, for example, both physical and emotional strength when she was the only person who could rescue her brother-in-law after a horrific highway accident. When Edie saw her young husband obsessively pursue a doomed attempt to salvage his pride—and impress her in the process—her patience and understanding were strained to their limits. She struggled to keep her frustration from turning into anger when her husband’s sexual desire diminished—and his brother’s longing for her became almost uncontrollable. When a man she once loved was dying of cancer, she was willing to disrupt and dislocate her settled middle-class existence just to pay him a final visit. A very different test of her loyalty came when she had to choose between returning to an abusive, possessive husband or abandoning her teenage daughter. And many years later, Edie placed her own life in jeopardy in order to save her granddaughter from a pair of dangerous, predatory young men.

Many of the tests—and revelations—of Edie’s strength, courage, loyalty, and intelligence occurred during a series of road trips. Those urgent, often harrowing journeys, undertaken at twenty-year intervals and each with unnerving parallels to the others, became the basis for the novel’s structure, a novel that had come to focus on the stages of Edie’s life, from the time she was a young wife to being a grandmother. Hence the novel’s final title, The Lives of Edie Pritchard: the story of a woman who often found that others, men usually but not exclusively, had projected on her an identity that suited their needs rather than hers.

For most of her years, Edie lived in Gladstone, Montana, the small town where she was born and grew up. People there knew her, or believed they did. Edie Pritchard . . . Was it her dad who died when she was just a girl? About as pretty and popular as any gal at Gladstone High . . . but what was it she did on graduation night? She worked at the bank, didn’t she? And wasn’t she married to one of the Linderman twins? But was it Dean or Roy? I could never keep those two straight . . .

Perhaps it was this that drew me to Edie’s character most of all: through her many lives, despite others’ attempts to define her, she was sure of who she was. I hope you recognize her.