Laird Hunt's Neverhome, which was published by Little, Brown on Tuesday, is the author's sixth book, and his first from a major house. It's also, for editor Josh Kendall, a hoped-for literary breakout.
Neverhome follows Ash Thompson, a woman who leaves her husband and, dressed as a Union soldier, goes off to fight for the North. Told entirely in Ash's voice--her real name is Constance--the novel was inspired by An Uncommon Soldier, a collection of letters written by Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, one of the actual women who enlisted to fight in the Civil War.
With the book just out on shelves, PW talked to Kendall about what drew him to the novel, and why he thinks this will be the title to make Hunt a household name.
Laird Hunt has been publishing novels and short stories since 2000--he's released five novels with Coffee House Press, along with a collection of stories reissued by Marick Press. What makes you think he can gain a wider audience with this book?
Ash Thompson, the extraordinary female Civil War soldier in Neverhome, is the sort of voice you wait your whole reading life to hear.
Neverhome was an adult buzz title at BEA, and I know you’re really behind the book. What are you and Little, Brown doing to help break it out?
A classic domino effect: I fell in love with this book, and that love quickly spread to our acquisitions board, and our amazing sales force. They shared that love with booksellers across the country. We brought Laird to BEA for the Buzz Panel and a media lunch and sent Laird on a pre-publication tour, to meet personally with those ardent booksellers. We did what every great publisher has always done: we harnessed the resources of a diverse, experienced, passionate and articulate bookselling community.
Hunt’s last novel, Kind One, was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction. Do you think he’s taken a major leap forward with his most recent work, or is his writing, which is often described as “mesmerizing" and “haunting,” finally being recognized?
I’ve followed Laird’s career from the start and he’s gotten better (honed his craft, what have you) with every book. I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating, Ash/Constance, the protagonist of Neverhome, is one of the most memorable characters I’ve read and so far the literary world agrees. Neverhome is indeed “mesmerizing” and “haunting,” but it’s also an incredibly fresh and exciting novel about the human cost of war.
You edited this novel for a year-and-a-half. That seems like a long time. What took so long and what was it like to work with Hunt?
I can’t wait for readers to witness just how carefully tuned Ash’s voice is, how surprising, how mysterious. The “truth” of that voice was paramount; Laird knew this instinctively, and in practice. So the long and careful editorial process was justified for the both of us. I just hope readers think the finished book justified those efforts!