Scott Blackwood’s evocative novel See How Small (Little, Brown, Dec.), in which three teenage girls are murdered in a small Texas town, achieves such a multilayered narrative effect that even its author has a tough time pigeonholing the book’s genre.
“It’s a mystery in that there’s a crime to be solved, but also in uncovering how to deal with such a loss,” says Blackwood, who teaches writing in the M.F.A. program at Southern Illinois University in Chicago. “It’s also a detective novel, and it’s a ghost story, too, where the dead girls are more alive than the living.” Perhaps above all, See How Small is a striking example of Blackwood’s deep strength as a literary novelist. His previous books have received praise from Richard Ford, Andre Dubus, and Rick DeMarinis, among others, and he is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award.
As described in See How Small, the murders, which take place in an ice cream parlor in a small Texas town, and their aftermath, are chillingly authentic. Indeed, Blackwood based the novel on an actual 1991 case in Austin, Tex., where four girls were killed, their murders still unsolved. “It took 20 years of being haunted by this story for me to begin writing See How Small, and another two to figure out the voices of all the characters,” Blackwood says. “I was living in Austin when the murders happened, and remember how the story ended up being told through the media. The girls lost their identities because of this, and I wanted to get at their essence in my book.”
Some might find See How Small reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones because of the use of the dead as characters in the story; they serve as onlookers and interpreters of the narrative. But similarities cease there. “There are elements of comfort in The Lovely Bones,” Blackwood says, “but my book has discomfort instead. Violence is always right behind things in life, and in this book.” But there is also a kind of peacefulness as Blackwood delves into the aftermath of the girls’ murders, and characters such as Hollis, a war veteran suffering from “a perceptual disorder,” adds a spiritual dimension to the story. “Hollis speaks like one of the old prophets,” Blackwood says. “He has visions” of the dead girls, and memories of the murders that cast a kind of beauty over the narrative of See How Small.
Meet Blackwood today at 3 p.m. at Table 8 in the Autographing Area.