A little bit of Groton might have found its way into Betsy Fitzgerald’s latest novel, Neelie’s Truth
, even though the action takes place in a small town in the Connecticut River valley’s tobacco fields in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s the small town sensibility, and even more, the sensibility of small New England towns that was prevalent a generation or two ago, she said.
“I think small towns tended to think of themselves as being enclaves then. I didn’t live in Groton then, but I imagine Groton was a much more agricultural town than it is now. Some of the things about small town life, particularly at that time, are universal. I think small New England towns tended to be homogenous, generally, with less diversity, and a more limited cultural experience — I don’t think of that as a negative necessarily, just as a fact of life,” Fitzgerald said.
“This wasn’t a difficult book to write because I drew a lot on what I learned growing up in a small rural community similar to the one that my main character, Neelie, lives in. It isn’t about my direct personal experience, but my understanding of life in a small rural town,” she said.
Fitzgerald will talk about Neelie’s Truth and her use of Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing web site, to publish it, at the Groton Public Library on Tuesday, September 16, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Copies will be available for purchase and Fitzgerald will be signing copies too.
According to a press release from the library, “Neelie’s Truth is an award-winning literary novel. Betsy Fitzgerald is a former New York Times writer whose fiction has been recognized by the Santa Fe Literary Competition, Laurinda Collins Whitney Short Story Competition, and Connecticut Writers.”
“I set out to write Neelie’s Truth as simply the story of a young girl who is suddenly left on her own. Her father deserts the family and her mother becomes unable to manage well. And I was interested in seeing how this girl keeps her life together, and she does, indeed. But it became a story that was bigger than this one girl struggling with her own life. It takes on some major themes that really resonate today. I didn’t plan it that way, but the issue of unexpected gun violence, of guns in the hands of children, is something that’s in the book. And you know, I think it’s a book that will get people to ask questions,” Fitzgerald said.
“The story is set in the late 1950s, early 1960s. What makes that era interesting for me, and I think, the readers, is that it was a simpler time, before we had electronic connections to people. People were connected more intimately in their communities.”
“Relationships were in the community. People interacted directly — you still see that some in small towns. But it was also a time when the mother of the family was physically at home with children — it was a different kind of family dynamic than we have now,” she said.
Fitzgerald almost blushes when talking about how reader reviewers have mentioned Neelie’s Truth in the same sentence with the classic coming-of-age novel To Kill A Mockingbird.
“I consider it incredibly high praise that Neelie’s Truth is compared in any way to To Kill A Mockingbird. Certainly Harper Lee’s book was a strong influence on me as a young reader. I read it as a young teenager and it always seemed to me the perfect book. Perfectly told. Simply told. Those are the things I strove for in Neelie’s Truth. I wasn’t influenced by To Kill A Mockingbird directly; I didn’t set out to write a story that would be a kind of New England version of To Kill A Mockingbird, but I admire that style and that kind of story telling. I think it comes from my journalism background. The story should stand on its own without a lot of frills and frou-frou.”
“Neelie’s Truth does take on some significant issues the way To Kill A Mockingbird does. When you do that through the lens of a small town, I think that can be a powerful way to approach significant issues like racism, or violence. Violence of any type seems more real and more jarring,” Fitzgerald said.
Registration is requested, but not required for Fitzgerald’s talk, and can be done online.
Fitzgerald blogs at www.betsyfitzgerald.com and www.notsmallatall.com.
(Betsy Fitzgerald-Campbell is Executive Editor of The Groton Line. — Ed.)