Writers at Rutgers Reading Series »


by Carolyn Williams


Susanna Moore

Susanna Moore’s fiction is sexy and violent, yet also subtle, funny, and compassionate. In all her novels, she asks why people—including, and perhaps even especially, highly intelligent people —are often compelled to step into dangerously self-destructive scenarios. As Time Out New York put it, Moore “has a penchant for lurking around the darker alleys of human psychology.”

At Rutgers, Moore read from The Big Girls, a work that was then in proofs but has since been published. The narration intertwines four vivid voices: Helen Nash, a psychotic inmate at Sloatsburg women’s prison, incarcerated for killing her children; Dr. Louise Forrest, the newly-appointed chief of psychiatry at Sloatsburg, a recently divorced mother of an eight-year old son; Angie Mills, an aspiring Hollywood starlet and Louise’s ex-husband’s girlfriend, whom Helen believes is her own long-lost sister; and Captain Henry (“Ike”) Bradshaw, a corrections officer, formerly a New York City narcotics detective, with whom Louise becomes involved. Moore was assisted in her reading by Andrea Kuhar, a Rutgers English honors student specializing in creative writing, who read the part of Helen.

This new novel is getting fabulous reviews. In Publisher’s Weekly, the reviewer notes that reading The Big Girls is “like watching a train wreck while dialing for help on your cellphone. You can’t turn away.”

Early in her career, Moore published three novels set in her native Hawai’i, sometimes called her “Hawai’ian trilogy”: My Old Sweetheart, The Whiteness of Bones, and Sleeping Beauties. These novels lovingly evoke their locale, while exposing the complexities of family function and dysfunction. They are also semi-autobiographical, as Moore’s readers discovered when she recently published a nonfiction travelogue, I Myself Have Seen It: The Myth of Hawai’i.

With the publication of In the Cut, Moore’s fame increased dramatically. Set in New York City, this novel features an English teacher who accidentally witnesses a woman engaged in a sexual act in a sleazy bar, only to find later that the woman has been murdered and disarticulated, or pulled apart at the joints. Thus the novel links language—the perils and pleasures of education; the disparate languages of street slang, police lingo, and standard English; the desperate effort to master a reality too complex to be articulated—with sexual violence and detection to produce a very unsettling mixture. In the Cut was later made into a film directed by Jane Campion and starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo.

One Last Look is Moore’s first historical novel, set in colonial India during the early nineteenth century. Narrated through the diaries of Lady Eleanor, who travels to India along with her sister Harriet and her brother Henry, the newly-appointed Governor General, this novel details the vicissitudes of attraction and repulsion that mark their early days in their new culture. Those crude early feelings are replaced by more complex ones as the siblings try to understand their involvement with colonial inequality and attempt various modes of assimilation. Like The Big Girls—and, in fact, like all Moore’s work—One Last Look explores the primal violence within families, the determining force of psychological realities, and the disparities of power and access that arise within the field of sexual and cultural difference.


Editor’s Note: Susanna Moore read on March 28, 2007, to an intimate and engaged audience of 100 people. Moore interacted warmly with our undergraduates: she not only invited Andrea Kuhar to assist her during the reading, but she also gave away her galley proofs of The Big Girls to Alex Kasavin. Carolyn Williams delivered a version of these remarks at the reading.

© 2007 Future Traditions Magazine
A Publication for Alumni and Friends of Rutgers English
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Department of English | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.