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Updated 7 hours ago
Author Susan Perabo says even though her new novel opens with a kidnapping, it's the characters, not the plot, that drive the action.
“I didn't begin by thinking ‘oh I want to write a coming-of-age novel,' it began with the idea of a student who is witness a kidnapping and what it's like being the one not taken,” says Perabo, who will be at Penguin Bookshop, 417 Beaver St., Sewickley, at 6 p.m. March 22. “You'd feel like you lucked out but horrible that you lucked out.”
“The Fall of Lisa Bellow” tells the story of a teenage girl coping with the aftermath of a classmate's kidnapping. Young Meredith Oliver witnesses the entire thing in a sandwich shop in broad daylight. Her mother Claire, struggling with her son's personal tragedy, now must try to figure out how to protect Meredith as she learns to cope with what happened.
“It's about the family dealing with the event rather than the event itself,” Perabo says. “Meredith is really trying to negotiate post-traumatic stress, and her mother, father and brother are all dealing with it. It's a story of the ways a family can help each other but also fail each other.”
Known for her short story collections “Who I Was Supposed to Be” and “Why They Run the Way They Do,” Perabo says she's been kicking this idea for a longer novel around for quite a few years, but the character of Claire was a late addition to the story.
“I didn't realize this character would be the mother; so wildly overprotective and so frantic about the ways the world might be cruel to her children,” Perabo says. “It suddenly came together in my head that the mother would be the mother of the girl left behind. That's when the book really was born.”
Her Penguin Bookshop visit won't be her first trek there or to Pittsburgh; the St. Louis Cardinals fan says she tries to take in a game at PNC Park whenever she can.
Perabo, a writer-in-residence and professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle says she teaches her classes from the point of view of the writer. Some of her favorites include George Saunders, Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates, but she says she discovers new writers from her students all the time.
She's noticed as the marketing campaign for “The Fall of Lisa Bellow” has ramped up that it's a novel not easily categorized. “I don't think it's as dark as the write-up makes it sound,” she says. “Yes, it starts off with a really dark incident but it's not a thriller. It's really about this family and the relationship between the mother and daughter that I think is so interesting.”
But she's glad to see the work finally published. “It would be foolish to say, ‘oh I wish I didn't have to do interviews or sign books for people who purchased my novel. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to do this.”
Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
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