Found in Amherst, lost in Harvard

I suppose if you write a novel called ‘Amherst’ you can expect friendly interest in the town of Amherst, and I got it. My visit there last weekend was glorious. The event was packed to the rafters, and all books sold, with demand for many more. So this is the secret. I must write novels named after towns, and then go and sell them there.

I left Amherst well pleased with myself, and headed to the Harvard Book Store. The lovely people at the store organised everything beautifully. The chairs were arranged in tidy rows. An elderly couple came and sat down. A distracted-looking man asked me what I was going to talk about, and thanked me for the information, and departed. Two middle-aged ladies settled down, perhaps to rest their feet. The friendly staff looking after me told me tales of the lines that stretched out of the door and down Massachusetts Avenue when David Sedaris came, and how they’d had to have security on the doors for Hillary Clinton. My own crowd grew by another one, a student, then by another one, a bearded academic (I know this because he spoke to me afterwards). The elderly couple got up and left. As I began my talk, there were about six people listening. I say ‘about’ because I didn’t have the heart to count. I prefer the phrase ‘not very many’. Perhaps when I use it you’ll be generous, and suppose I had an audience of twelve or fifteen.

The Boston Globe was due to review the book on the day, but the review came out after I’d flown home. It’s a fine, thoughtful review: Emily Dickinson’s spirit “fuels the drama, which switches between two parallel stories that illuminate the power as well as the often crippling delusion of romantic love… As Nicholson shifts between the two main stories, he lays the groundwork for an examination of the ways of courtship and connection, then and now (which one character astutely sums up as “Everything’s possible, so nothing seems enough”)… In Nicholson’s telling, Emily urges “Go further, Austin. For me. . . . Do you want to die without having lived?” The introverted, purportedly virginal Emily is cast as a voyeur, experiencing love by proxy.” As any writer will tell you, one intelligent reader makes the whole thing worthwhile.