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Wichita

Four days ago, I wrote about Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss, which I had begun reading. I didn’t happen to mention that I was considering putting it aside temporarily in order to read a new novel, Thad Ziolkowsi’s Wichita. I did so just after writing the post, and I’m now halfway through.

Why Wichita? More to the point, why Wichita when I was enjoying de Waal’s book, and when a long list of novels awaited me if it was fiction I hungered for?

I don’t have a good answer. I suppose it helps that Wichita is only about 250 pages long, in contrast to the undoubtedly richer Hilary Mantel historical novels that top my fiction list, Wolf Hall and the new Bring Up the Bodies. All I can say is, last Friday night I was previewing the Sunday NYT book review section online — a weekly habit — and Natalie Bakopoulus’s review drew me in. I downloaded the free Amazon sample right away, read the first few pages, and as I continued to enjoy The Hare with Amber Eyes over the weekend, I couldn’t get the idea of Wichita out of my head. On Sunday evening, I gave in.

I am invariably at a loss as to what to say about a novel without saying too much about the plot. For much the same reason, I didn’t read Bakopoulus’s review of Wichita all that closely. I just skipped around, alighting on a few passages, such as the review’s close:

“Wichita” is a novel about expectations and outcomes, about what is open and what is veiled. Its emotional terrain is touching and vast. Whereas you might begin the book drawn in by its sense of humor, its ending will unhinge you, as if a storm has ripped through you and, like the wind in Rilke’s poem, sucked “the world from your senses.”

“Through the empty branches the sky remains. / It is what you have.”

Part of what tempted me to read Wichita is the fact that some of the characters are academics. I suppose I won’t be revealing too much if I say that the book starts with the main character arriving at his mother’s home in Wichita upon graduating from Columbia, leaving his east-coast-based academic father and grandfather and uncle and aunt and cousins behind. At the book’s halfway point, he is only in his third day back at the house. I’m not unhinged yet.

Ziolkowski is himself an academic, a professor at Pratt. Wichita is his first novel. He is also a poet and the author of a memoir, On a Wave, about his surfing years. So I’ve learned. A week ago, I knew nothing about him. I’m looking forward to reading this interview once I finish the novel.

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