September 23, 2014

Great grandmother’s journal sparks Iowa native’s novel

An Iowa native used a 15-page journal written by her great-grandmother as inspiration for a novel about feuding farm families nearly a century ago. Michelle Hoover grew up in Ames, descended from four generations of Iowa farmers.

Hoover’s debut novel, “The Quickening,” follows two fictional Iowa farm women, isolated and very different neighbors who face a series of hardships together. She says her great-grandmother’s journal, which included family photos, sparked the idea. Hoover says, “My mother gave it to me, ‘Oh, you might be interested in this,’ she said. Of course, I was. From the very first sentence, it’s really heartbreaking. She says, “I don’t know if anyone else will care about our life, but here it is.”

Reading about the challenges of her real-life ancestors gave Hoover the premise for her book. “It’s about two Iowa farm women trying to survive the Great Depression,” Hoover says. “They’re each other’s closest neighbors and have to depend on each other to get through their hardships but they’re also about as different as possible and that causes them problems.” The story is told in alternating chapters by the two women and encompasses several decades.

Hoover says she intentionally kept the book’s setting anonymous, but in her mind, it was central Iowa. “It’s based in part on my great-grandmother’s journal and her farm was actually in south-central Iowa but I wanted to keep it open,” Hoover says. “I have a reader in North Dakota that said when she read the book, it was just like home for her, that landscape, which is exactly what I wanted. It’s the landscape that’s more important to me than the actual place name.”

The 37-year-old Hoover, who teaches writing at Boston University, will be back in Iowa for a book tour next week, with readings scheduled in Ames, Iowa City, Oskaloosa and Des Moines.

Learn more at :www.MichelleHoover.net.

Listen to Matt Kelley’s complete interview with Hoover: Hoover interview 4:34 MP3