Kathryn Schwille discusses her debut novel What Luck, This Life
Wednesday 9/26, 7 p.m.
The Space Shuttle Columbia and its contents rain down on the people of Kiser, Texas, in Kathryn Schwille’s imaginative debut novel that opens six weeks before the invasion of Iraq.
What Luck, This Life begins in the aftermath of the 2003 space shuttle disaster, as the townspeople watch their pastures swarm with searchers, and reporters bluster at their doors. A shop owner defends herself against a sexual predator who is pushed to new boldness after he is disinvited to his family reunion. A closeted father facing a divorce that will leave his gifted boy adrift retrieves an astronaut’s remains. An engineer who dreams of orbiting earth joins a search for debris and instead uncovers an old neighbor’s buried longing.
In a chorus of voices spanning places and years, What Luck, This Life explores the Columbia disaster’s surprising fallout for a town beset by the tensions of class, race, and missed opportunity.
Evoking Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesburg, Ohio and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, the novel’s unforgettable characters struggle with family upheaval and mortality’s grip and a luminous book emerges—filled with heartache, beauty and warmth.
Kathryn Schwille’s fiction has appeared in New Letters, Memorious, Crazyhorse, West Branch, Sycamore Review and other literary journals. Her stories have twice received Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She was an award-winning newspaper reporter before moving to North Carolina to become an editor at the Charlotte Observer. A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, she lives with her husband in Charlotte, NC.
Praise for What Luck, This Life
"A scream comes across the sky, and there's nothing to compare to it in Schwille's quietly contemplative and affecting first novel...a modern-day Winesburg, Ohio."
“A century after the publication of Winesburg, Ohio, Kathryn Schwille has created a similarly unexpected, and unexpectedly moving, portrait of a small town: this one in East Texas, in the wake of a tragedy. Her characters speak from the heart; their troubles and small triumphs speak to all of us.”
—Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Archangel
"Kaleidoscopic and incredibly moving, What Luck, This Life is the story of a hardscrabble town and the people who call it home. This is a book full of heart and wisdom."
—Thomas Pierce, author of The Afterlives
What Luck, This Life is an astonishing work of literary talent, surprising at every turn. The novel takes the catastrophe of a space shuttle blowing its fragments across the uninspired landscape of an East Texas town and in the search for remains uncovers a second set of catastrophes and secrets in the lives of the people on the ground. The characters are wild and desperate, but they are also us. For we are all cast out, looking for a return. From the tattered remains of disaster, Schwille creates a glimmering constellation of humanity, a flash of heavenly light. Just thinking about this book makes me feel more alive.
—Elaine Neil Orr, author of Swimming Between Worlds
With this novel, Schwille has given us a landscape of longings, passions, and heartaches so real and deep we can almost walk around in it. The pieces of the Columbia fall on and bring into relief the whole rich array of lives and dramas that exist in Kiser, Texas--every one of them rendered with remarkable feeling. The result is a powerful portrait of Kiser and of the human condition.
—Clare Beams, author of We Show What We Have Learned