Last month, we saluted Ginnah Howard when her novel Night Navigation was featured in the New York Times Book Review. Now we have the opportunity to salute Ms. Howard again — and to thank her for responding in such length to questions about her novel and herself.
We’ve been sharing that conversation over four days. In today’s installment, Ginnah continues her precis of the sweeping, ambitious trilogy of which Night Navigation will be the central core.
Would you mind telling us about your work so far on the other two books of the trilogy?
Night Navigation opens in March 2002, on a black-ice night in upstate New York. Through the four seasons, this novel focuses on what is left of the Merrick family after the suicide of the father and the younger son. The novel follows the losses and gains of the remaining son, Mark, who has a bipolar disorder and who, throughout that year, is in and out of treatment for a heroin addiction, and his artist mother, Del, who anxiously tries to help him with the hope that once and for all she can let go. Though this sounds like a bleak tale indeed, many readers have stated that the buoyancy of the language has lifted much of the darkness (see the Amazon and Bookbrowse reviews.)
Book 1, Rope & Bone, focuses on Del Merrick and Carla Morletti, and their families. The novel is made up of 34 linked stories covering the years from 1955 to 1993. Many of the stories concentrate on the friendship between Carla and Del―their misadventures as they try to raise their kids, get their old cars started on subzero mornings, and put in enough wood to get through to April at the same time they’re testing their theory: a good man’s hard to find. In addition to these friendship tales, all of the other characters―their children, their husbands, their lovers―have stories as well. Reading Rope & Bone, after finishing Night Navigation, would be like the way we get to know people, first in their present lives, and then as we spend more time with them, their pasts slowly surface. Rope & Bone is “finished”; it’s now with my agent, ready to go out to editors this fall.
I’m mid-way in working on the third book, Common Descent, which picks up a few days after Night Navigation closes in March 2003. It focuses on Carla Morletti and her daughter and son, Tess and Rudy, all of whom are also important characters in Night Navigation. When Common Descent opens, Carla is on her way to visit Rudy in jail and Tess is refusing to go in, stating that she’s had enough of Rudy’s troubles. Since I work from only a vague plan and often do not know where the story will go next, I can’t say for sure, but I’m hoping Mark and Del don’t come knocking on Carla’s door, that the Merricks will only be seen on the periphery, in a “what they’re up to now” way.
All three novels are written to “stand alone.” Ten of the Rope & Bone story/chapters have already been published. Several have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The published stories are now available on my Web site, each as a Story of the Month.