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'Landslide': Susan Conley’s Novel Story Of Mother Guiding Her Family Through Crisis And Healing

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Winky Lewis
Susan Conley

In the novel Landslide, Susan Conley, a fishing accident leaves protagonist Jill’s husband, Kit, hospitalized in Canada. Jill is left to look after her two sons — two teenaged boys she refers to as “the wolves.” Money was already tight for the family. Kit’s prognosis worsens — meaning a longer hospital stay and mounting tensions at home with the boys. And then Jill suspects that her husband has been unfaithful. As Jill further becomes the pillar holding everything up to keep the family together, life at home in the Maine fishing village starts to unravel, a veritable landslide about to overwhelm them all.

Highlights of the Interview with Susan Conley

On the title of the novel and its connection to the song by Fleetwood Mac

It's really a writer's greatest hope that a reader will pick up on these threads that we're pulling on. And I was really trying to unpack that word over and over. I mean, starting with the Stevie Nicks song and this idea of love coming tumbling down and then climate change and financial looming disaster, and then, Kit's accident. So when he is injured and he's helicoptered to the nearest hospital, he's been fishing, off of the Georges Bank and he gets taken to Nova Scotia and suddenly the narrator of our novel, Jill, has that classic sort of choice to make, to be with him or to be with “the wolves” because teenage boys at the age they are and because they live on an Island, they can't be alone for too long. And that's kind of one of the tension lines of the whole book is how can she sort of be all things to all people. And how is she kind of putting a finger in the dam of this landslide of change that's really all around her? Will her husband, Kit, ever be able to fish again? That was a big question I was asking in the book and a big question that fishermen here in Maine are asking really every week, every day

On writing about the inner lives of adolescent boys
It felt so emotionally true to my experience of being a witness and a neighborhood mother to dozens and dozens of boys and seeing how vulnerable they are and how much rich, rich thinking is going on in their inner lives and how misread they are. We know these things. I mean, these things are in our, in the ether. We know we've heard about the silenced boy, but I hadn't read a lot about that boy in fiction and contemporary fiction. I feel often like the teenage boy can be more of a stock character, and I was determined to give them respect on the page and to show them in some peril and see how they'd react. I really also was exploring that there's a whole multi-generational sort of legacy of masculinity here on the Maine coast, which you point out with, with Jimmy the grandfather. So how could I get from Jimmy to Kit, his son, and then to these really emotionally literate boys, but still boys that are not going to show their cards very often. They're, they're going to play — particularly Sam — is going to play tough and sarcastic, but then he's going to want to lie in bed and cuddle with his mom.

On the character of the mother, Jill, using Instagram as a way to understand her son
I'm 53. I got my first cellphone smartphone — I think when I was 40. And I feel like I am at that sort of dividing line between the smartphone kind of revolution and the Luddites. I don't live on my phone, but I have children. I have teenagers and they have this kind of love affair with their phones that it always looks like it's unlocking something for them, that there's this running narrative. And it was too easy — kind of a cop-out — to just disparage Instagram, but I really wanted to just kind of consistently press on it again to show that it's like the running narrative of many teenagers’ lives.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.