Episode 7: Laura van den Berg

Author Laura van den Berg talks with Mark Polanzak about deleting an entire draft of a novel while at a haunted writing residency, why she started writing (spoiler: she wanted an easy A), & the year she combined every bad idea into one big failed project.

LAURA VAN DEN BERG was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Her first novel, Find Me, published by FSG in 2015, was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, and BuzzFeed, among others, in addition to being longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize.

She is also the author of two collections of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009) and The Isle of Youth (FSG, 2013). What the World was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The Isle of Youth was named a “Best Book of 2013” by over a dozen outlets, including NPR, The Boston Globe, and O, The Oprah Magazine; a finalist for the Frank O’Connor Award; and received The Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and the 2015 Bard Fiction Prize.

She has recently taught creative writing in the MFA Program at Columbia University and at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. At present, Laura lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband, the writer Paul Yoon, and their dog, Oscar. She is a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard University. Her next novel is forthcoming from FSG.

 

After two acclaimed story collections, Laura van den Berg brings us Find Me, her highly anticipated debut novel a gripping, imaginative, darkly funny tale of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world.

Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel.

As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.

Rachel