Patrick Somerville Critic's Choice Free Recommended

When: Mon., March 9, 7 p.m. 2009

Somerville reads from his new novel, The Cradle; he'll be joined by Featherproof Books publisher Jonathan Messinger and Featherproof minibook author Colleen O'Brien. Near the end of The Cradle (Little, Brown), Patrick Somerville makes it clear that his title plot device is no mere MacGuffin but rather a sweetly drawn symbol that not only wraps up his debut novel with a neat bow but also communicates a wise and hopeful worldview. Not bad for a guy born in 1979. (Somerville graduated from Cornell’s creative writing program in 2005 and now lives in Chicago.) In small-town Wisconsin in 1997 a pregnant Marissa sends her young husband Matt on a seemingly impossible quest: to recover the antique cradle her mother took with her when she abandoned her family years earlier. A second narrative, taking place ten years later and told in alternating chapters, involves Renee and Bill, a 50-ish couple in a Chicago suburb who have just seen their 19-year-old son off to war in Iraq. That quiet, heartbreaking trauma—and an accidental amphetamine overdose—leads Renee to reveal a secret she’s kept from Bill for almost 30 years. Of course, that secret involves Matt and Marissa, in particular their messed-up childhoods. As the two plots wind toward each other, Somerville displays an effortless command over his fiction, letting secrets reveal themselves rather than dropping them in like surprise gimmicks. More important, as his knack for oddball secondary characters in overlooked pockets of the rust belt shows, Somerville concerns himself with people as much as plot. Or as Matt concludes, thinking of the cradle, "In it one could place all manner of life and hurt, and still, no matter what, the human could grow." --Patrick Daily

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