After receiving a number of prizes for her writing, Whiting Award-winner Lily King is poised to break out with her latest novel, Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly, June 3). The book--it follows the fictionalized love life of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s--received a starred review from PW, recently landed a front-page review in The New York Times Book Review, and may be adapted into a feature film. Euphoria currently has 23,000 copies in print. To discuss the buzzed-about new book, PW reached out to King’s editor, Elisabeth Schmitz, who is v-p and editorial director of Grove Atlantic.
Were you concerned about King’s departure from her usual subject matter? I’ve heard her describe her previous books as “claustrophobic, screwed-up-family novels.”
Goodness, no. Lily always travels widely even among her “screwed up family” novels. Her being inspired this time by historical figures is welcome new terrain and shows that her precise, crystalline prose sings just as much about people of the 1930s as it does her contemporary characters.
What appealed to you most about the novel, which is based on a true story?
Language always captivates me first. I love the clarity of Lily’s prose, her economy of words—like the chime from crystal someone said recently—and how it conjures the intellectual and romantic alchemy and combustion of these three figures inspired by a moment in history.
How has King’s style matured over the course of four novels?
I think, perhaps, she’s become even more comfortable with her adult characters over time--their urges and desires are not quite as mysterious now.
Where do you see her career heading next?
I’ve known Lily since we were 13, and she’s famously secretive about her plans. But I’m sure she will seek another adventure. She always does.