One thing that I really admired about Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s page-turner of a novel The Possible World is the story itself. How did Schwarz make this imaginative tale spanning a hundred years and told through the eyes of three totally different protagonists so compelling and believable? ‘Wish I could write like that’ occurred to me more than once as I flipped the pages.
My mom has three freckles, light brown and almost perfectly square, two on her right cheek and one on her nose. She has an up-and-down line between her eyebrows that gets deeper sometimes. Like now, when the car has parked and she’s gotten out, and I still haven’t moved.
Ben is the sole survivor of a crime that takes the lives of his mother and several others. He is six years old. The novel’s two other protagonists are Lucy, the doctor who tends to Ben and is going through her own personal upheaval, and Clare, a 100-year-old woman with a lifetime of secrets. Schwarz gets into the heads of these intriguing people – strangers to one another at the outset whose lives then converge – and away Schwarz goes.
I caught up with Schwarz and asked her about her moving novel.
You weave three captivating stories covering nearly a century from the Great Depression until present day into one gripping tale. How did you come up with your original plot?
That is a most difficult question to answer! The core of the story (Ben’s story) came out of an archive I stumbled across in the medical library during medical school — compiled by a physician who was researching unusual stories told by young children, all over the world. Clare’s story came from living in Providence and reading about the storm of 1938, how it predated the early-warning system and was able to do great damage. Those were the nuggets. Lucy’s story made a framework to hold the other two.
Remembering, misremembering, keeping secrets, these things keep coming up in your story – A 6-year-old traumatized boy who thinks his name is Leo, not Ben. A 100-year old woman named Clare who remembers everything, but has told no one. Until now. And a sad doctor whose heartbreak she can’t share with the one person she’d like to. A memory to suffer alone. What role does memory play in your novel?
I am fascinated by memory, how it can be stored imperfectly — incompletely and even quite inaccurately— and how without memory all we have is the fleeting moment. Everyone in The Possible World is struggling with the role of memory in his/her life: its meaning, its loss. For each of us, our memory is our story. Each of the characters in the book is faced with the loss or interruption of his/her story. That we don’t have total control of our story is a fundamental truth, and it’s something all of the characters are trying to cope with in the book.
The rest of my interview with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based author appears here in 26’s February newsletter. Schwarz doesn’t hold back, covering everything from how to build suspense, move on from trauma and her love of a good cuppa.