Novel Story

English's Matson publishes The Hunger Moon, her first book of fiction

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Assoc. Prof. Suzanne Matson (English) lends a diarist's touch to her writing, capturing pieces of her life in poetry. Now she has brought that approach to a new medium in her recently published first novel, The Hunger Moon .

"Frankly, I couldn't imagine not writing," Matson said. "For me, writing is a way to understand the world. It's the way I keep things, in the sense of preserving them. There are moments of my life in those poems and in those voices that wrote the poems that represent the status of my history."

While the characters in her novel "are not me and the voices are not mine," she added, "there's some of me in every character."

In The Hunger Moon , Matson brings a delicate ear for language and an astute feeling for character to her tale of three women, of very different social backgrounds and ages, who form a friendship that transforms their lives.

The book's title came from a Farmer's Almanac list of Native American seasonal names for the moon, Matson said. The Hunger Moon, also known as the Snow Moon, occurs in February, during which a key portion of the story takes place.

When the novel opens, Renata, a waitress, has packed up her baby, Charlie, and taken to the road. Charlie's father, her ex-boyfriend Bryan, hasn't been told he has a son. Renata drives cross-country to begin a new life, hoping to stay free of emotional entanglements and the associations of a painful childhood.

Assoc. Prof. Suzanne Matson (English)-"None of these characters is drawn from people I know, but some of me is in all three of the women characters."

Renata ends up in Boston, living next door to Eleanor, a 78-year-old widow and retired judge who finds herself gradually stripping away the layers of complication in her life until she is living in virtually a plain white room. June, a young dance student dangerously obsessed with thinness to mask her loneliness, is hired to look after Eleanor.

When Bryan appears unannounced in Boston, Renata is forced to reconcile with her past and find a new meaning of family.

An admirer of the novels of Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler and John Updike, Matson said she is drawn to fiction writers "who deal with characters leading ordinary sorts of lives" and, in so doing, show "the extraordinary possibilities of an ordinary life, or the complexity of an inner life that from the outside seems perhaps not so complicated."

Matson said the unmarried working mother, widowed judge and anorexic dance student of her novel have been imbued with some of her own tastes, habits and personality traits.

"None of these characters is drawn from people I know, but some of me is in all three of the women characters," she said. "You have to draw from what you know, to a certain extent, but you also have to feel free to imagine beyond that."

Matson drew on other personal influences for Hunger Moon . Her first son, Nicholas - who was born during the time she wrote the novel - served as a model for Charlie, while her husband, a labor lawyer, contributed useful insights to her crafting of Eleanor.

"I really enjoy sharing a life with someone whose interests are different, so that we don't talk my shop all the time, and we don't talk his shop all the time," Matson said of her husband. "We share each other's days and inform each other about different worlds."

Poetry has been a love of Matson's since her childhood and she has published two volumes of poetry in recent years. More recently, Matson has begun writing non-fiction essays for The New York Times Magazine and Child Magazine .

Matson is now at work on a second novel, which concerns a high school teacher, married for 20 years and the father of twin 15-year-old daughters, whose "life unravels," Matson said.

"Their marriage comes apart and I'm not sure whether I'm going to put it back together again," she said. "It's great fun to create a world of people and watch them move around and talk to each other and grapple with their problems. Now that I've written one novel, I don't think I can stop."

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