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Beloit alum and author Anna Noyes hosts book reading

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Cool as fuck.  

That was my initial, non-journalistic impression of author Anna Noyes’10 and her Oct. 26 reading from her recently published short story collection, Goodnight Beautiful Women. In the interest of a more appropriate analysis of her presentation and reading at the WAC South Lounge I’ll mention that Noyes was inspirational in her honesty, humor, paradoxically self-assured self-effacement, and masterwork of her craft.

Noye’s graduated from Beloit with a creative writing major, but the campus was just one of many stops for the author, as she’s currently in the midst of a cross country tour promoting her aforementioned debut collection, Goodnight Beautiful Women. The collection has been met with acclaim by numerous critics, among them Elizabeth Poliner whose New York TImes review praised Noyes “knack for lucid prose” which provides “her characters with simple language that nevertheless grasps an understanding of complex human dynamics.” A similarly complimentary review by EJ Levy in The Washington Post claimed “If the fiction of Stephen King and Alice Munro had a literary love child it might look like this: luminous domestic moments married to a pervasive sense of threat.”

The Stephen King connection might in part come from their shared locale; each sets the majority of their stories in their home state of Maine. Unlike King’s works however, the “dark” elements of Noye’s writings have in large part been played down by her publisher. During the event’s Q and A section, Noyes devoted some time to speaking on the strange sensation of having one’s natural creative interests – in her case “mother-daughter relationships, women’s sexuality, and girls” and the rarely depicted “in-body female experience” – highlighted for their less subversive, more marketable elements and sold as a “coming of age collection about rural Maine.”

In a similar vein, she spoke of the publishing process making her work more visually palatable. Noyes pictured her books cover being a photo by Francesca Woodman, “who does very dark, nude” portraits of women. Instead the cover ended up being a “pretty” blue landscape of a tree-lined cliff, which Noyes sees as tricking the reader into thinking, “oh, this is not a dark book. This is about Maine!” Luckily, the overused adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” exists for a reason, and a reading of the book’s actual content reveals Noyes passion for exploring “complex and bodily” stories that move past a “sexualized, objectified, from a distance” portrait of females and female sexuality.  

The talk was intellectually engaging in part because Noyes herself seemed engaged. Going to author Q and A’s is always great, but when well established authors speak about their work you quickly get the impression that 90% of the questions they’re being asked they’ve had to respond to countless times before, and it’s understandably difficult for them to avoid regurgitating recycled lines about their process or their inspiration. Noyes had undoubtedly already faced many of the questions posed to her by the Beloit audience during her book tour, but she took the time to give each question a well thought out and compelling response.

After the the Q and A, about 45 minutes was devoted to Noyes reading from her short story called “Werewolf.” The story uses the frame of the party game werewolf (known in some circles as mafia) to explore consequences deriving from the malleability of “truth,” especially as it relates to questions of personal identity and continued attempts at reparations (a comparison to Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement could certainly be made). The story, and Noyes’ reading of it, succeeded in inducing the peculiar sensation of having one’s insides violently compressed and occasionally stomped upon that derived in this case from a well done artistic confrontation  with a child’s capacity for banal cruelty. The story’s greatest success however, lay in Noyes’ ability to depict her main character as both victim and perpetrator, with neither identity overwhelming the other.

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