Creative Writing Alumni Visit Oberlin For Flawed Yet Enjoyable Fiction Reading

Aviva Blonder, Staff Writer

According to Edan Lepucki, OC ’02, it was the “apotheosis of achievement” to return to campus and read aloud from her latest novel alongside fellow Oberlin graduate Jacob Bacharach, OC ’03, Thursday, Nov. 13. Her opening remarks reflected the tone of the evening: casual, but not without significance for the returning alumni. The two Creative Writing majors returned as published authors to share what they have accomplished since graduating.

Lepucki read a segment from her debut novel, California, which she described as “postapocalyptic domestic drama.” She chose a selection from the middle of the novel, and the reading suffered from the lack of context. The scene opens with the protagonist, Frida, washing her clothes by a stream. Lepucki explained that, living in the woods after the end of the world, the characters have to do their laundry by hand. Frida then wanders off into the woods, leaving a trail of clothes behind her to mark her way, which Frida compares to the story of Hansel and Gretel in her internal monologue.

The parallel made to the fairy tale and Lepucki’s vivid descriptions helped cement the haunting, surreal feel of the scene, made even more dreamlike by Lepucki’s soft, calm voice. She told the story in third-person limited, using the protagonist’s rambling trains of thought to give color and humanity to the scene. Ironically, though the entire scene is told from Frida’s perspective and her thoughts are deeply ingrained in the narrative, the audience never found out why she decided to diverge from her usual path and go wandering off through the woods. Frida obviously knows that she shouldn’t wander through the woods; it’s dangerous and she could get lost. She’s also pregnant, so one would think that she’d also be looking out for the interests of her unborn child, which she later acts more protectively toward. She ought to have a very good reason to do something she knows is so dangerous, but Lepucki never explained her character’s motivation.

The lack of context surrounding the scene became even more jarring when Frida abruptly encounters a coyote that drops a dead animal at her feet before threatening to pounce. The scene contained no explanation for why a coyote would try to give her a dead animal or attack her; there isn’t even any foreshadowing that wild animal attacks are a problem in the post-apocalyptic Californian woods. The calm, steady tone with which Lepucki read did nothing to clear up confusion. As the tension in the text mounted, her cadence remained unanimated, making it difficult to empathize with her character’s fear. Despite a lack of drama, the scene’s abrupt ending left the audience in poignant silence for a moment before listeners erupted with applause.

Following Lepucki, Bacharach read the beginning of his novel, The Bend of the World, which he described as a comingof-age story retold as a conspiracy plot. The story takes place in Pittsburgh, where he lives. According to Bacharach’s introduction to the reading, many places in the story were inspired by jokes between him and his friends about various mythical places within Pittsburgh. The inspiration is apparent in the light, comedic tone of the story that comes across as a series of coincidental events rather than as a unified whole. This is fitting for a tale about conspiracy theories, which are often made up entirely of unrelated coincidences arbitrarily juxtaposed and infused with meaning.

Unlike Lepucki’s protagonist-centered scene, Bacharach introduced a whole cast of characters in a fast-paced burst of satire. The scene began with a series of UFO sightings as they were perceived by the media, the government and finally the protagonist. Bacharach wove political humor into his work in a straightforward manner. Fast-paced and captivating, the author switched back and forth between presenting unique perspectives on the UFO sightings and going off on comedic tangents, all the while creating a vivid image of life in Pittsburgh.

Bacharach’s voice expressed the tone of his selection well, with lots of energy and drollness. However, variation between his interpretations of the characters’ voices was less distinct than it could have been, especially in the conversations between the protagonist, Peter, and his friends. The dialogue itself effectively conveyed the speech of the somewhat aimless young adults featured in his story; the characters spend the scene drifting in and out of situations, all the while flippantly commenting on the world around them.

The scene transitions from UFO sightings to a rambling tangent about one of the protagonist’s past romantic exploits. The humor is just as sharp and the characters are just as vivid, but the frequent narrative transitions were difficult to follow. Bacharach’s decision to include a conspiracy plot works to the story’s benefit, serving as a unifying thread to tie the disparate elements together and give the story purpose, even though, like in a conspiracy theory, the purpose may be artificially constructed.

The reading ended with a Q&A session. The two authors discussed their writing processes and the significance of setting and genre in their work. They also mentioned future projects; both of them are currently working on new novels.