A Look at Indie Authors and Their Publishers
By Lanie Tankard, Indie Book Reviews Editor
Book: The End We Start From
New York: Grove Press, November 7, 2017. 136 pp., $22.00 cloth, ISBN: 97808021268940.
Author: Megan Hunter
British writer Megan Hunter, a Manchester native, lives in Cambridge. She holds a BA from Sussex University and an MPhil from Cambridge University (Jesus College), both in English Literature. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and her short story “Selfing” was a 2016 finalist for Aesthetica Magazine’s Creative Writing Award.
The End We Start From, a novel, is her first book. Picador, a UK imprint of Pan Macmillan, published it first in May 2017, and it has since appeared in at least eight other countries. Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company, SunnyMarch, and Liza Marshall’s indie Hera Pictures have acquired the film rights.
Publisher: Grove Press
Grove Press, a hardcover imprint of Grove Atlantic, began, appropriately enough, on Grove Street in New York’s Greenwich Village seventy years ago. Four years later, Barney Rosset, Jr. (who died in 2012), bought the company, and over the next thirty-five years published both Nobel and Pulitzer Prize authors as well as breakout international writers. He shed light on works by D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller as he won legal victories over their publication while confronting US obscenity laws. He also printed early gay fiction and published political titles by Malcolm X and Che Guevara. Rosset detailed all these events in his autobiography. When he sold Grove Press in 1986, it became Grove Weidenfeld. Seven years later, the company morphed into Grove Atlantic, Inc., when it merged with Atlantic Monthly Press (AMP), now the company’s other hardback imprint. AMP’s start stretches back to 1917 in Boston. Black Cat and The Mysterious Press are also imprints of Grove Atlantic, as is Atlantic Books, Ltd., based in London.
E. Morgan Entrekin, Jr., president and publisher of Grove Atlantic, co-founded Literary Hub in 2015 with Terry McDonell (and Andy Hunter as founding partner). PEN International has two centers in the United States. Entrekin is a current member of the Board of Trustees for PEN America in New York and was a 2012 Award of Honor recipient from PEN Center USA in Beverly Hills. A native of Nashville, Entrekin graduated from Stanford University and the Radcliffe Publishing Course. Prior to beginning his own AMP imprint in 1984, he worked for Delacorte Press and Simon & Schuster.
Entrekin’s awards for his contributions to the field of independent publishing are many, and include the 2004 Ben Award from the Small Press Center and the 2008 Legacy Award from the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. And they keep coming. Just last week, the Center for Fiction presented Entrekin with the 2017 Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction.
Loren Glass, professor of English at the University of Iowa, wrote a book about the history of Grove Press titled Counterculture Colophon. In an interview with Andy Ross Literary Agency, Glass detailed the importance of both Rosset and Entrekin. “What makes Grove different,” Glass noted, “is that, for a time, an entire community of people, both in the United States and around the world, not only had heard of Grove but would buy books simply because they were published by Grove.”
Details about manuscript and art submissions, as well as internships, for Grove Press and other Grove Atlantic imprints may be found on the website. Manuscripts require a literary agent.
Cover illustration: Kazuko Nomoto
London-based Kazuko Nomoto, who works under the name Nomoco, was born in Japan, where she graduated from Osaka University of Arts. She holds a BA in Graphic Design from the London College of Communication and an MA in Communication Design from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, both in the United Kingdom. She has exhibited her work in major cities around the world.
Life was born in water and is carrying on in water.
Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.
There is no life without water.”
“Biology and Pathology of Water”
in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol. 14 (2), Winter 1971 (p. 239)
From the beginning, we know Megan Hunter’s debut novel, The End We Start From, is going to be sparse. “I am hours from giving birth,” the nameless narrator tells us succinctly, quickly drawing us into this sketch of devastation with her compelling voice in the first paragraph.
Dystopias are dreadful fictional places, and this one is no different as a terrible flood engulfs London. Yet the dystopia Hunter creates here has a redeeming grace from the outset: the birth of a baby in the midst of catastrophe. Hunter nimbly juxtaposes extremes throughout her slender volume: joy and sorrow, security and fear, birth and death.
The author takes her title from the last of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “Little Gidding” (V, lines 214–216): “The end is where we start from.” Eliot’s words that follow soon after that sentence in his poem seem almost serendipitous as a review of the narrative Hunter sculpted from his poetic idea:
“…every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others….”
Hunter economizes her words in the mere 134 pages she allots to her tale, yet each brief utterance is enough—just enough. She relies on readers to connect the minimal language units they encounter into a larger story in their minds, much as a pointillist artist forces museum viewers to use their eyes to do the work of mixing minuscule dots of primary colors on a canvas into secondary colors that show them a bigger image.
The new mother in this waterlogged novel notes events in detached first person as if she were jotting down objective observations in a reporter’s notebook at the end of another drenching post-apocalypse day. They could be read as weary rhythmical tweets. The maternal protagonist narrator remains unnamed, but Hunter designates other characters with capitalized single letters. R is the father. Z, their newborn son, is the only character whose name we’re told: Zeb—but he’s called Z. The plot advances in staccato fashion: “R has gone,” “his friend S,” and “J is also scared.”
We follow the little family (Mom, R, and Z) as they flee their London flat, heading away from rising waters to higher ground north of the city where R’s parents, N and G, live. Mother and father alternate staying together and separating in search of shelter and food. R is gone for long periods. Z’s needs during his first year of life imbue his mother with the strength necessary to endure.
Hunter has written a disaster survival manual using a literary approach. The result is a sensitive and uplifting How to Cope in Chaos that resembles poetry. It’s well timed in the wake of rampant destructive events around the globe that leave people floating in boats. Hunter cuts through the flotsam and jetsam to reach the essence of what it means to be alive. A mother survives chaos by mentally charting her baby’s first tooth, first solid food, first time standing, first step.
The novel pastes together a collage of thought-provoking pictures. Hunter makes the most of liquidity to underscore her flood theme, employing watery images wherever she can: a pregnancy urine test, amniotic fluid, breast milk, a boat on the water, rain, washing, drinking, saliva drooling from the mouths of babes. Her descriptions of motherhood’s minuscule moments are spot on as she chronicles—with a smidgen of words—pregnancy, birth, lactation, and the precious warmth of a snuggling infant.
She intersperses flood scenes and baby scenes with occasional italicized paragraphs about Earth’s creation drawn from various “mythological and religious texts from around the world,” enhancing her allegory. There’s an art to encapsulating such large themes so powerfully within slightly more than a hundred pages, rather than elongating them into near a thousand. Hunter paints large murals with brief phrases about floating toys, “the disturbances,” checkpoints, islands of safety—and “comparative reviews of refugee camps,” as if they’re on a travel website. My tears ebbed and flowed like waves from page to page, my own emotions and memories pulled by the tide of Hunter’s prose as I immersed myself in the book on a flight from Texas to Oregon (although I did also chuckle at times).
The small (5” x 7.5”) hardback book is pure white, bringing to mind a tiny blank canvas primed for an artist—but the picture appears instead on the protective turquoise linen jacket worn by the slim volume, where the magnificent cover image is embossed in gilt. The art resembles Mother Earth struggling to wrap her arms around humanity as buildings crumble and a woman holding an infant in a boat rides waves cresting almost to the Arctic Circle. This brilliant design could also be interpreted as a womb just after the water breaks, with a baby floating down the birth canal away from a place of security—destined to enter the world as a boat refugee. It’s a stunning illustration by Kazuko Nomoto. Such lyrical symbols are necessary in dark times: They serve as candles to light the way forward, especially when added to elegant prose such as Hunter’s.
For Z, the end of his parents’ known world is the beginning of his. He’s never experienced the unflooded world, the one before his birth. Z’s nursery was ready and waiting, but it was under water by the time he arrived. Now his parents sort through their moldy memories together after the floodwaters recede, developing a new definition of home as they adapt to the changed world.
When I began reading a section about the mother looking for a coach, I developed a mental image of her searching for someone to offer survival tips in the new reality, whispering: “You can do it!” Wow, what a great welcoming concept for a country to provide refugees, I thought. On the next page, however, it became clear the word “coach” was actually referring to a long vehicle on wheels that transports people to their destinations. Perhaps the British English “coach” should have been translated into the American English “bus” in the US edition. In the novel, these coach/buses take flood evacuees from checkpoints to boats headed to their former abodes—if the water has receded.
There are certainly parallels in The End We Start From to other dystopian works, such as The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, California by Edan Lepucki, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich, or The Children of Men by P. D. James.
Is Hunter’s fictional future really so far away? Her parable points to real-world problems already here, such as climate change. This minimalistic novel is a blend of headlines from today’s news—and they’re not fake. Flooded major cities like Houston still struggle to recover from super hurricanes, people float on boats after storms or wars, and refugee camps overflow. Perhaps we’re even now reaching the end from which we started.
Megan Hunter’s graceful provocative fable is a lingering allegory of hope, of resilience, of life.
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