Brooklyn BookBeat: Author to read in Park Slope
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kelly Braffet made a name for herself in the literary world with her first two novels, “Josie and Jack” and “Last Seen Leaving”, both of which earned critical raves. Her latest book, “Save Yourself” (Crown Publishing), was just released on Aug. 6 and already has garnered similar praise. Renowned Brooklyn writer Emma Straub (“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures”) offers the following assessment of Braffet’s new novel: “Astonishing. ‘Save Yourself’ goes deep into the hidden and shameful parts of grief, love, and anger, and the reader emerges shaken and grateful on the far end.” Braffet will appear in Brooklyn at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore on Aug. 15 for a reading, book signing, and Q&A with Community Bookstore co-owner Ezra Goldstein.
“Save Yourself” engages the reader in a suspenseful story, as Braffet craftily alternates the perspective between two characters, Patrick Cusimano and Verna Elshere. Patrick works at an unpromising job in a convenience store, still residing in his childhood home with his brother, Mike, and Mike’s girlfriend, Caro. His father is in jail; after discovering evidence that his father had drunkenly killed a six-year-old boy, Patrick turned his father in. Patrick’s life since the incident has become increasingly bleak. His brother blames him for breaking up their family, and Patrick believes he might be in love with Caro, which only adds tension to an already dysfunctional family.
Verna, the other central character, has just begun high school and is also grappling with a crippling family dynamic. Her father is known for being an outspoken minister, which makes Verna the victim of harsh teasing at school. Her older sister, Layla, has a reputation for being an opinionated goth outcast. When Layla and her crew take Verna under their wing, Verna finally feels relieved and secure, but she comes to find that her sister’s world is much darker than she had imagined. When Layla befriends Patrick, the characters’ worlds collide.
Through dark and hauntingly realistic moments, Braffet reveals a web of characters struggling to find themselves in a world rife with pain and rejection.
In anticipation of Braffet’s upcoming reading at Community Bookstore, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to the author about the origins of this book and her longtime interest in horror stories.
How did the idea for this story originate?
This book came from two different roads that converged. The first was, to put it simply, desperation: I promised an old friend a short story for an anthology. I kept waiting for an idea to pop up, but eventually the deadline came close enough that I had to lock myself in my office for a weekend and just write until I came up with something, and what I came up with was the Cusimano family. The anthology never happened – or at least, not with me in it – but the characters from the story stuck with me.
The second road was a book group discussion that I was lucky enough to sit in on after my second novel, “Last Seen Leaving”, came out. One of the readers – this was in western Pennsylvania, where my parents live - commented that she was bothered by the characters’ lack of faith, and it struck me that it had never occurred to me to give any of my characters a religious life. So at the same time I was writing the story about the Cusimanos, I was also nursing this very vague idea about these two sisters raised by Christian fundamentalists, who ended up being Layla and Verna Elshere. Eventually it occurred to me to see what happened when I combined them: the family with no faith in anything meets the family ruled by faith.
You develop such intricate characters – were some easier to create than others?
Always! Some characters just seem to sort of show up fully formed, and others take some coercing. Verna Elshere, for instance, probably has one of the toughest roads to travel in “Save Yourself.” She’s terribly naïve about the world outside her father’s church, but – at the risk of sounding like a self-help seminar – I really wanted her to find her anger and her strength through the course of the book. Making sure that change was gradual and believable required constant attention.
Caro Haller, on the other hand, is one of those who just showed up, dressed and ready to play. I feel like I could write about Caro for years. For all I know, I might.
Have you always had an interest in dark, haunting stories?
As long as I can remember. My favorite version of Cinderella was always the one where the stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet so they could fit into the glass slipper.
What are you working on now?
“Save Yourself” just came out a week ago, so most of my time has been taken up with promotion: social media, blog postings, setting up events, and so forth. Which is all a lot of fun, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my regular writing schedule. I’m kicking around a few ideas for the next novel, but time will tell which one will stick to my foot.
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Kelly Braffet is the author of “Josie and Jack” and “Last Seen Leaving.” She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, where she received her MFA. Kelly lives in upstate New York with her husband, the writer Owen King. Visit her at www.kellybraffet.com; on Twitter @KellyBraffet; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kellybraffetfiction.
The Aug. 15 event will begin at 7 p.m. Community Bookstore is located at 143 7th Ave. in Park Slope.