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A Small Place, But a Big Story to Go With It

BC's Graver to discuss her new book, a saga of family and change

02/28/13
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Elizabeth Graver (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 28, 2013

For generations, the Porter family has enjoyed solitude and serenity at Ashaunt Point, a remote summer community on Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay. But World War II is raging, and although the conflict at first seems far away, it invades the Porters’ sanctuary and changes the course of their lives — especially teenagers Helen and Dossie and their younger sister Janie — in ways they can scarcely imagine.

The Porters’ odyssey through the momentous events and various social trends and developments of the second half of the 20th century — World War II, the Vietnam War, women’s liberation, psychoanalysis, environmentalism, land development — is the subject of The End of the Point, a new novel by acclaimed author and English Professor Elizabeth Graver.

Set for release March 5 by HarperCollins, The End of the Point examines the powerful legacy of family and place and explores what we are born into, what we pass down, preserve, cast off or willingly set free.

Graver will give a reading and talk about the novel at a Dean’s Colloquium in the O’Neill Library Reading Room (Entry Level) on March 14 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The event, which will be followed by a reception, is free and open to the public.

“I wanted to portray a small place but go deep, to use a narrow lens to examine larger issues of social class, money and property, of parenting and care-taking, of what adults pass on, both literally and figuratively, to children,” said Graver.

“I look at how this kind of private seaside community can function as a protected or contested space, isolated but never entirely, as its boundaries are porous and the events of history are never far away,” she said. “I realized partway through that I was also writing about a world whose ways are fast-fading, a world on the way out, for better or worse — probably both.”

Graver is the author of three previous novels: Awake, The Honey Thief, and Unravelling. Her short story collection, Have You Seen Me?, won the 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and her work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories (1991, 2001), Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1994, 1996, 2001), The Pushcart Prize Anthology (2001), and Best American Essays (1998). Her story “The Mourning Door” was awarded the Cohen Prize from Ploughshares Magazine.

The End of the Point “took me a long time to write, both because of the particular challenges and pleasures that went into it and because over the past decade, my non-writing life has been very full,” according to Graver, whose extensive research for the book comprised topics such as World War II, Scotland — where she spent two weeks — and 1970s counterculture.

A slate of prominent writers — including Gish Jen, Margot Livesey, Ron Rash and others — have commended Graver’s new work. 

“In this globalized age, with everyone talking about migration, here comes Elizabeth Graver to remind us of just what place can mean,” wrote Jen, author of World and Town, among other acclaimed works. “The attachment in this gorgeously written, enormously moving book transcends time and personality. It is deep, extraordinarily ordinary, and finally provocative.” 

Graver also drew praise from Booklist: “With a style and voice reminiscent of William Trevor and Graham Swift, Graver’s powerfully evocative portrait of a family strained by events both large and small celebrates the indelible influence certain places can exert over the people who love them.”

 An advance review by Publishers Weekly was equally laudatory: “Graver’s gifts — her control of time, her ability to evoke place and define character — are immense.” 

Graver said there will be a strong Boston College component to her March 14 reading and talk.

“I have felt wonderfully supported by Boston College during the seven-plus years it took me to complete this project. In addition to reading from the book at the Dean’s Colloquium, I thought I’d talk a bit about researching the novel, since my research — aided at key moments by an undergraduate assistant, as well as by conversations with colleagues within and outside of the English Department — owes a great deal to several people at BC.” 

Graver’s website, www.elizabethgraver.com, offers information about The End of the Point and her other work.  The site also lists readings she is slated to give in several Boston-area venues, including Newtonville Books, the Lincoln Library and Concord and Andover bookstores.