“The pregnant girl enters the Trenton Family Clinic,” begins Tracy Barone’s debut novel Happy Family, “looking like she parted the Red Sea to get there. The lower half of her dress is wet with amniotic fluid, and the upper half is streaked with sweat.” This is a grand opening line for a novel, dense with imagery, evocative of the Bible, and thick with bodily fluids. It promises both legend and messy corporeality. It’s a woman’s body, split in two.
Happy Family is the story of Cheri Matzner, the baby who’s straining to be born in the book’s first sentence. Her mother, a teenager, runs away as soon as she gives birth, and Cheri is soon adopted by a couple with their own sketchy past. The book picks up with Cheri as an adult (seemingly of the high-functioning variety) as the secrets from her past boomerang back in the general direction of her head. On Thursday, June 16th, Barone will be reading from Happy Family at the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library downtown. The most important element of this reading for Seattle audiences is that she’ll be joined onstage by Seattle author Maria Semple, who will be interviewing Barone about her novel.
It’s the appearance from Semple that elevates this from an intriguing appearance by a first-time out-of-town author into an absolute must-see. Semple, a writer for TV shows like Arrested Development who moved to Seattle and found international fame with her second novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, is an avid reader. If she loves a novel, she’ll recommend it to anyone within hollering distance. If she hates a book—and she hates a lot of books—it’s almost as though she’s morally offended. Her appearance at Barone’s reading is a sign of approval from a famously opinionated writer.
In addition, this is a rare public appearance for Semple; she’s been holed up for over a year writing her follow-up to Bernadette, a new novel titled Today Will Be Different which will be published this October. It’s possible that, since she’s been immersed in the new book for months, she might accidentally share some information about Different, which so far has been relatively shrouded in mystery, at this reading.
These two writers should have a lot to discuss. Barone could learn from Semple’s wild ride to international literary stardom. They could compare the way they use humor to soften the impact of some of the sharp-edged drama in their books. (Barone will use an off-kilter observation like a character’s propensity to talk dirty in Italian when aroused to mask a dysfunctional relationship, for instance, and Semple used Bernadette’s pathological loathing of all things Seattle to disguise her inner turmoil.) Wherever the conversation takes them, you’ll want to follow.
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.