September 26, 2002
Professor examines hate crimes, religion and war in Midwest novel
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue professor and author Patricia Henley is releasing her second novel, "In the River Sweet," this fall.
Henley's latest novel follows 1999's "Hummingbird House," which was a finalist for the National Book Award and The New Yorker Fiction Prize. Because Henley's first novel was so well received by critics, she is beginning a 21-city national book tour for "In the River Sweet."
Henley will sign books at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 at Von's Bookstore, 315 West State St., West Lafayette. "In the River Sweet" was published by Pantheon, a division of Random House Inc.
"I had the main character, Ruth Anne Bond, in my mind for a while," said Henley, who wrote part of the book as a fellow in the Center for Creative Endeavor at Purdue University. "This is a very spiritual woman whose children are forcing her to take a look at herself. At the time, I also had three themes homosexual hate crimes, the Vietnam War and the Buddhist-Catholic dialogue that were very important for me to write about. I needed to find a way for the three of them to work together in this novel."
Much of the book is set in Indiana and Michigan, but the hometown of Ruth Anne resembles the Lafayette area.
"But I promise you it is a fictionalized town," said Henley, who teaches in Purdue's master of fine arts creative writing program. "It's smaller, and the college is much smaller. I drew on this community because I have lived here for 15 years, and Indiana is very familiar to me. I don't consider it an Indiana book; it's really a book about the Midwest."
The novel begins when Ruth Anne, a 50-year-old mother and wife, is contacted by the son she left behind in Vietnam almost 30 years earlier. Ruth Anne had followed her fiancé, Johnny, to Vietnam to be close to him and away from her Michigan home. After her fiancé was captured, Ruth Anne falls in love with a blind Vietnamese man she reads to regularly. When the war makes it impossible for Ruth Anne to remain in Vietnam, she leaves her new love and son behind to return home to the Midwest.
After three decades of silence, Ruth Anne must decide whether to tell her husband about the child and former love. At the same time, this spiritual woman is trying to adapt to her daughter's lesbianism.
Henley, a Vietnam War protester, looks at the roles women played in the Vietnam War in this novel. In spring 2000, Henley went to Vietnam to conduct research. For the other two themes, she turned to media accounts, sources and friends for information about hate crimes and Buddhist-Catholic issues.
"Over the years I have been appalled with the discrimination gay people experience in the world," Henley said. "It seems to be all around us, even done in the guise of joking. Sometimes those jokes can be cruel or deadly. I wanted to write about this to explore it."
Her previous works include two books of poetry; "Learning to Die" and "Back Roads," and three story collections: "Friday Night at Silver Star," which won the 1985 Montana Arts Council First Book Award, "The Secret of Cartwheels" and "Worship of the Common Heart: New and Selected Stories."
Her stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and Northwest Review. Some have been anthologized in the Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize anthology.
Henley is working on a third novel to be set in Baltimore.
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Patricia Henley, (765) 464-1876, email@example.com
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Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org