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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Hoover’s ‘Bottomland’ intrigues with a historical mystery

Movie trailers have been extremely effective in their ability to properly reel the audience in, but could the same concept work for books? Although it remains a newer medium, book trailers are catching on, and on the train for the joy ride is none other than Michelle Hoover, a critically acclaimed writer. Having just released her second novel “Bottomland,” Hoover wanted to engage the audience with an appropriate book trailer that thrilled and garnered some interest, giving audiences a sneak peek in the oddity that is her latest creation. Hoover spoke extensively about her new book and read part of the first chapter at an event, titled “Michelle Hoover and Laura Harrison: Words and Images” which took place on Wednesday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m. in Pearlman Lounge.

Inspired in part by true events, “Bottomland” tells the story of a German-American family in Iowa as they try to piece together their lives in the aftermath of World War I. As tensions arise from their heritage, it all comes to a climax when two of the Hess daughters go missing. The two youngest of the bunch, Esther and Myrtle, are nowhere to be found and with limitless possibilities as to their whereabouts, “Bottomland” follows one family’s desperate search in a largely unforgiving landscape.

After finishing her first publication, “The Quickening,” Hoover became inspired by her family’s own mysterious past. One day, while looking through old photographs with her aunt, she was told that two of her great aunts, her grandmother’s youngest sisters, disappeared unexpectedly and were never seen again. Though some claim that they returned back, others say that only the older daughter returned, and even other family members claim that they changed their identities upon running away. The bottom line is this: There is some disagreement in the family about what exactly happened, and no way to truly confirm any of these versions of the history.

“Bottomland,” which is written from the perspective of five different narrators, is fundamentally a mystery with a lyricism and grace inherent in Hoover’s writing style. According to Hoover, she does not suggest that anyone attempts to write and master so many narrators; for one, it is incredibly difficult to make the people feel different. Actually, this requires subtly changing your writing style, especially syntax, grammar and diction, all of which can be excruciatingly challenging (because for the most part, they are largely unconscious). Amazingly enough, one of the perspectives in the novel is written in German syntax, which Hoover, who does not speak German, had to teach to herself.

This novel came about in part due to Hoover’s shame of her German-American heritage, which she decided to explore further through her writing: “I had long known that we had the surname ‘Hess’ in our family, and when I was younger I was embarrassed by this connection to what seemed a terrible lineage. I wanted to understand that embarrassment, that idea of self-hatred that many immigrants who come from supposed ‘enemy’ countries, are taught.” This topic remains especially important now with the ongoing debate on immigration and the not-so-far off presidential election.

The book trailer—which was created by Laura Harrison, a very well established painter and animator—is a visionary masterpiece that engages with the moodiness that this book is so firmly entrenched in. The five-minute video has three main parts, and doesn’t follow a traditional plot-based narrative sequence. Instead, it gives excerpts from three of the five perspectives that the book is narrated in. Made with a largely cool color palette, with a few vibrant colors thrown into the mix, the video shows images of Myrle treading through water, her breasts exposed; a horse, sinking into a lake and galloping along a field; Esther brooding in the confines of the house, very much alone; and Nan, gazing at her sickly sister’s rash. Having taken a whopping six months to make, the video conveys a certain sullenness and sensuality through the interplay of animation and Hoover’s voice in the background. The lack of sound increases the intimacy between the audience and Hoover’s characters that helps more fully immerse us into the historical context of the novel.

A Fannie Hurst writer-in-residence, Hoover’s latest creation is wholly imaginative and interesting because of its reversion back to a conservative time. Though Hoover claimed that “midwestern fiction doesn’t have an identity” and that her work was more of an mingling of the dark, grotesque ideas of the south, what she doesn’t realize is that “Bottomland” is one of many novels that are revamping the genre altogether and setting the stage for something new.

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