Three recently published novelists visited Miami’s campus last Tuesday. Jessie Chaffee, Dave Essinger and Brendan Kiely read excerpts from their most recent publications. Two of the authors, Essinger and Kiely, are Miami alumni who graduated in 1998.
Chaffee’s novel, “Florence in Ecstasy,” revolves around Hannah, a recent college grad who flees to Florence, Italy, on a mission of recovery from a deadly eating disorder. The excerpt Chaffee read details a time that Hannah stumbles upon the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena and finds the frescoes depicting the life of St. Catherine, who starved herself for god. This knowledge leaves Hannah with a new outlook on her own illness.
Kiely’s novel, “The Last True Love Story,” follows the lives of two teens, Hendrix and Corrina, who are on a mission to take Hendrix’s Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather to his old home in New York. Kiely says that “The Last True Love Story” is directly related to his personal experience with his grandfather who died of Alzheimer’s.
“I went on a wacky adventure with him that was ill-advised and overly romanticized, and this novel is a response to that,” said Kiely.
Finally, Dave Essinger’s “Running Out” is an adventure novel about a pair of long-distance ultra-runners and their infant daughter who get stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. The protagonist, Dan, sets off on a multi-day journey running across the Canadian wilderness to seek help. Essinger himself is a long-distance runner, although the rest of the premise is fictional.
“My book’s about long-distance running and I think maybe one reason people do that is we don’t have manageable, containable conflict in our daily lives so we set up these goals,” said Essinger. “And I think that’s similar to why we read fiction, so we can vicariously deal with other people’s conflicts and watch them go through difficult obstacles.”
Each of the three novels is tied together by a common underlying goal: to overcome a crushing obstacle — be it a mental illness, the illness of a relative or miles of barren Canadian wilderness to traverse. These books are outlets through which the authors processed their experiences, and also through which readers are able to process their own feelings.
“Books do give us an opportunity, moreso maybe than non-fiction, moreso than news articles. Novels give us an opportunity to sit with something and process and experience,” said Kiely.
The reading was organized by Cathy Wagner, the director of Creative Writing at Miami.
Miami students who attended believe that the readings the creative writing department host are very beneficial.
“I find they’re always really helpful when they come,”said Carrie Bindschadler, a graduate creative writing student at Miami. “I went to a couple last year and they’re always super kind, they always get really excellent people to come in. It’s also fairly optimistic to meet people who are being successful in the business. It’s a really nice thing the English department figures out for us.”