Interview With Roxana RobinsoN about MORE NEWS TOMORROW
More News Tomorrow is a very rich and complex narrative driven by the murder of the protagonist’s mother at a campsite in northern Wisconsin when Georgianna was a child. I wonder if you could talk about its inception? What started you on the journey?
I discovered a photograph of my maternal grandfather when he was the director of a boys’ summer camp in northern Wisconsin. He is sitting beside my grandmother in a rowboat, the oars stored inside the boat. A sense of perfect stillness. More News Tomorrow began with that photograph.
William Grove, the director of a boys’ camp is paddling up the Bone River with some of his staff, his wife, and his young daughter, Georgianna. They set up tents at a site to spend the night on their way to camp—and at dawn the following morning a member of the staff discovers the dead body of William’s wife in the root bed of a circle of pine trees, yards from her tent.
And then, I have a vivid memory of a conversation which occurred when I was traveling to Europe with my mother. On the ship, I had a brief, late adolescent infatuation with a Harvard Law Student from Hamburg who to my horror told me with some pleasure that he was a former member of Hitler’s Youth Troop and as a boy had turned in his physician father to the Nazis.
“There is no country as susceptible to Nazism as the United States of America,” he said. “Wait until you’re older and you’ll understand.”
The book is full of a vivid kind of historical recall. Can you talk about why you chose that particular moment in World War II?
On June 17, 1941—a period of extreme anti-Semitism in the United States—the Nazis enter Lithuania and decimate the country. William, a Lithuanian Jew identifying in America as a lapsed Catholic, lives with the knowledge that at any moment while he is setting up camp the Nazi troops will enter his village.
During World War II, the console radio was always playing in our living room. When I was around five years old I would lie beside it listening to the news because the news, always the war, was the subject of conversation between my parents.
My father, a journalist who came to Washington in 1941 after Pearl Harbor to help establish the Office of Wartime Censorship, was privy to the nation’s secrets. Even I knew that.
When he called home from his office on May 7, 1945, and asked to speak to my mother, he was weeping.
“Why are you crying?” I asked him.
“For joy,” he said. “The Germans have surrendered.”
There is a close association here with the rivers and forests of Wisconsin. What sort of connection do you have with this place, and what sort of research did you do to make this connection ring so true?
Wisconsin is a place of my imagination. I did research but what drew me to this geography were the tall pines filtering the sunlight, darkening the landscape, the unpredictable rivers at once still and dangerous, the swift changes of weather. A sense of peril, the possibility of death in a place where a murder happens, where a child can disappear.
Have you written about murders before and what drew you to this kind of lethal engagement?
I have written about murder—in Queen of Hearts about a seer who kills her fiancé; a young woman in A Student of Living Things who is initially bewitched by her brother’s killer; a love story called The Train Home in which an Irish priest follows the man who shot his brother during the Irish troubles with the intention of shooting him.
“Tell me a murder,” I used to ask my father who had been a crime reporter.
We are a violent country. I grew up indirectly—as so many of us have—aware of danger. Aware of guns.
The conceit of More News Tomorrow is literary suspense. A murder mystery, but the investigation is ultimately into the hearts and minds of the characters. Like Georgie, I am interested in humans.
Can you talk about your use of time; the way chronology is made to serve the narrative?
The novel alternates between June 1941—William Grove’s narratives leading up to the murder of his wife—and June 17, 2008, which belongs to his daughter, Georgie, a cultural anthropologist.
On her seventieth birthday, sixty-seven years after the murder of her mother, to which her father confessed, Georgie Grove receives a letter from the only other living person at the campsite when her mother was killed. Roosevelt was eleven at the time, the son of the camp cook. He invites her to her father’s camp, where he now lives. Thrilled with the possibility of discovering the mystery behind who her father was, she resolves to take her reluctant grown children and three grandchildren on a canoe trip to the place where her mother was murdered. Traveling on the same day, June 17, all these years later, she will replicate her parents’ trip up the Bone River, arriving at Missing Lake to set up tents at the same campsite. Georgie believes that by taking this journey, they will discover that despite her father’s confession, he did not kill his wife.
Georgie is at a point in her life where looking back to make sense of a complex past is the only way forward. How do you describe her, and do you see yourself in her character?
She is a strong, whimsical woman, a scholar who lives by the imagination, a Vietnam widow, proud of the three children she has raised alone. She takes her children and grandchildren on what is ultimately a dangerous journey, one they do not wish to take, to discover a story that they don’t believe she will find. But she is a believer. And she is flawed as well, of course.
When Georgie was pregnant with her third child, after her husband’s death, she bought The Home for the Incurables, an old hospital for people who will never get well. There she raises her children, creating a home for them and for the legion of tenants in and out of the house, and in the process creates the home she never had.
The Home for the Incurables was a real place when I was growing up—a large brick building, dark and forbidding, shadows of the incurables in the windows. I would walk past it on my way to school although there were other routes to walk. I’d cross the street to the other side of Upton Street, compelled to look but not so close to the incurables that I could be sucked inside and disappear.
Do I see myself in Georgie? I do. Hers is not my story but I see something of myself in all of my characters.
What about Thomas, Georgie’s grandson whose journal of their trip “for publication,” as he writes, comprises four sections of the novel?
I love Thomas. His journal entry is the first section I wrote. He is the only member of his family besides Georgie who is obsessed with the story of William Grove. If it turns out to be true that Georgie’s father killed his wife, Thomas will have a story to tell the students at Alice Deal Jr. High School and he will then become a boy of importance.
Thirteen, odd, funny, and wise, he is the eye of the story and Georgie’s soul mate. His journal delivers the final truth.