THIS WEEK’S TWO OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “RESTLESS SOULS,” BY DAN SHEEHAN AND “CLUTCHING LAMBS,” BY JANET PASSEHL, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.
THE BOOK: Miss Portland
PUBLISHED IN: 2016
THE AUTHOR: David Ebenbach
THE EDITOR: Luke Hankins, a literary champion!
THE PUBLISHER: Orison Books: “the kind of work we seek to publish has a transcendent aesthetic effect on the reader, and reading it can itself be a spiritual experience.”
SUMMARY: I think the summary written by my editor is the best one: After years of medicated struggle, 34-year-old Zoe quits her office job and moves into a trailer with her boyfriend in rural Maine against her family’s wishes and her doctor’s advice. After all, she has big plans with Gordy, a goateed vegetarian with thoughtful eyes and a job at a yoga studio and, as it turns out, an unfortunate desire to always be in control. But when a late-night argument turns violent, Zoe runs away in search of a mystical beach house she recalls from childhood, only to discover that in order to find it, she must reckon with her past. In electric prose that burns with wit and intelligence, Miss Portland explores what it means to give up everything in order to recover who you are.
THE BACK STORY: I’ve had important people in my life who have struggled with bipolar disorder (like my character Zoe), and their experiences—along with my own experiences with depression—made me want to tell this story. And in fact at first it was supposed to be a story—as in, a short story. I thought I was writing something that would run maybe ten pages. But Zoe’s life was bigger than that, and I fell for her, and soon the pages started piling up; I wanted to stay with her to find out where she was really going. Readers tell me they’re glad I stuck with it.
WHY THIS TITLE? For me, the title has several meanings. Zoe is throwing everything into moving to this new town in Maine, and in that sense she’s trying to become “Miss Portland.” At the same time, her decision to move was not well thought out, so there’s a real chance that, in trying to hit a bullseye with this moving, she’ll actually “miss.” But at its most literal, the “Miss Portland” is a real diner, and an important early scene takes place there. Maybe you’ll find additional meanings beyond the ones that have occurred to me.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? People have enjoyed this book for its journey, for its humor, and for its nuanced exploration of an experience of mental illness. People of all kinds tell me they enjoy and identify with the main character, who is a bit off-balance but absolutely determined. Miss Portland is also a great choice for book groups, as this book group host will tell you.
“An important and touching depiction of the complexities of selfhood and being with mental illness….[its] success also rests on Ebenbach’s ability to see Zoe in all her dimensions, not simply as a collection of symptoms, an object of fascination, or a problem to be solved…..Ebenbach delivers an absorbing, suspenseful story of emotional depth and complexity.”
—Margaret Luongo, Fiction Southeast
“A moving paean to becoming the place where you belong….a complex, intimate, and deeply humane portrait of a person whose experience of the world is both alternate and poignantly familiar….Zoe’s quest for a happy ending may take her to Portland, Maine, but, ultimately, it leads her back to herself.”
—Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews
“Anybody who has ever tried (again) to make a fresh start, to begin again (again), to give it all another shot someplace else (again), will adore Miss Portland and its hero, Zoe Tussler, a woman who can’t make up her mind about very much, and yet is very much a survivor. Miss Portland is a book that makes not figuring out not only alright, but actually kind of inspiring….This is a very memorable and humane book, the kind of book we need more of.”
—Peter Orner, the judge who awarded Miss Portland the Orison Fiction Prize.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Like it says on my website, I’ve been preoccupied with the human condition since 1972. I’m interested in what makes us struggle and what makes us happy. I’m interested in the opportunities and awkwardness that comes from people interacting with other people. I’m particularly interested in how the small things—a quick but provocative conversation, a glimpse of a passing person through a window, suddenly noticing that a tree on your block is in bloom—accumulate and, all together, shape and define so much of who we are.
I’m the author of six books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, including (on the one hand) a spiritually-minded guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah and (on the other) a kind of sassy book of short stories called The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy and other stories.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I think that fiction’s most important job is to increase empathy in the world. My hope is that, if you’ve never gone through anything like what Zoe’s going through, you’ll be moved by, and come to better understand, her experiences. If you have gone through something at all similar, I hope this book will make you feel seen.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Here’s the first paragraph of Miss Portland:
Zoe knew what other people didn’t: she knew that life was perfectible. She knew that, when you were born, life was just handed to you like a pile of mismatched shoes and books and unwashed laundry, and most people thought that you had to carry that stuff around everywhere you went forever. But if you were lucky, at some point you realized you could set all the junk down and walk away from it. You could walk away and find something else that you actually wanted to hold on to. No—something that carried you. Something perfect that carried you. And she knew these things because of Maine.
To view the rest of that chapter, go to David’s Amazon page.
Politics & Prose carries the book in Washington, DC, and I think Book Cellar sells it in Chicago, and Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, for starters—but any local bookstore would be willing to order it if they don’t already have it.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT:
PRICE: The ebook runs from $8.69 (Kindle) to $9.49 (Nook), and the price for the paperback ranges from $16.63 (Amazon) to $18 (Orison or Powells)