Arts/Culture
3:35 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

So-Called 'Ordinary' People: Michigan on the Page Part 2

Patricia Clark is an award-winning poet, and the former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids. When I asked her to participate in our web-exclusive “Michigan on the Page” series, Ms. Clark chose a certain author’s first story collection, a writer who—like many recent college graduates—has made her way out of the state to advance her career.

Ms. Clark first encountered Suzanne Rivecca at Grand Valley State University, where she was, Ms. Clark insists, the most talented student she has seen there.

The collection, Ms. Clark suggests, should be appealing to Michigan readers both for the familiar landscapes it shows (including West Michigan, where Ms. Clark lives and teaches) and for the psychological truth it contains:

Death is Not an Option: Stories(New York: W.W. Norton, 2010) by Suzanne Rivecca features a new Michigan voice, a young writer who has been publishing stories and establishing her name since leaving the West Michigan landscape a few years ago.

Suzanne’s fiction has appeared in Best New American Voicesand other publications.

I recommend Suzanne Rivecca because hers is a new viewpoint—a young woman growing up in Michigan, featuring witty, beautifully written “coming of age” stories.

Rivecca covers a range of ages: one where the main character’s at camp and struggling to fit in with other teenagers; one where the point of view character is a young teacher dealing with a possible case of abuse of one of her students.

The physical landscape is at times recognizably Michigan but more important the psychological landscape is both familiar and fresh: the stories here illuminate an “outsider” seeing Michigan. Just two examples feature a Catholic girl’s eyes turned on typically Protestant West Michigan, and those of an older young woman turning her considerable intelligence, sympathy and wit, on her companions, acquaintances and, yes, even on herself.

These are humorous and insightful stories with a wealth of knowledge on life in contemporary America—from a writer fresh on the literary scene.

Since leaving Western Michigan behind, Ms. Rivecca has gone on to Minneapolis to the creative writing program at the University of Minnesota, where she received her MFA, and to Palo Alto, where she participated in the prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowship.

Ms. Clark goes on to mention how surprising the stories are, pointing out how often and well apt details and poignant character moments work to disarm the reader.

Ms. Clark compares the stories in the collection to another writer with strong Michigan ties, Charles Baxter, in the way Rivecca uses “so-called ‘ordinary’ people” who have “interesting twists and quirks in their personalities.

All this in addition to occasionally being laugh out loud funny.

Patricia Clark is the author of the poetry collections My Father on a Bicycle and North of Wondering. She co-edited an anthology of contemporary women writers called Worlds in Our Words, published by Blair Press/Prentice Hall.

Her most recent book is She Walks into the Sea.  

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News