Silk Hope, NC

Silk Hope, NC, is my fourth novel. I wanted to call it just Silk Hope, but marketing at Harcourt said it sounded like a romance novel, so we added the NC. Silk Hope is actually a community near Chapel Hill where I owned an old farmhouse(the one that burned in 1977), on beautiful land, with a pond with an island in it, and it’s named for the effort someone had in the mid-19th century to start a silk industry there. Most everyone thought the book was the most amusing of all my books(I still like Rootie Kazootie.) It also sold the best of all my books. It was made into the very worst TV film, a CBS Sunday Night Movie, starring Farrah Fawcett at the bottom of her career. It was so badly done when I saw it on video, before it was broadcast, I heard myself making these little involuntary moaning sounds(as if you would quietly moan the words under your breath….oh lord…oh shit…. oh no…like that) as each scene that had been so well done in the book, turned into the sappiest, most phony, unbelievable and cliché rendered collection of “what in the hell were they thinking?” scenes on the screen. I actually wrote the book for two reasons: One, I wanted to celebrate the really lovely old farmhouse I’d owned that burned down, and two, because Carolyn Chute, the Maine novelist, had once told me that she’d “bought her daughter a house so that whatever happened between her(the daughter) and men in her life, for the rest of her life, she would always have a home.” I liked that so much. That’s basically the story, those two reasons, except, everything fell onto the page as a hilarious war between Frannie and her sister, Natalie, who wants to sell the lovely old farm, and Frannie and all the men in her world she’d been with(lots and lots of them).

Here’s an excerpt:

“I think I know where Dad might be. Maybe I’ll go find out,” Frannie said. “I might be wrong, though.”

It was quiet again. The catfish was nowhere in sight. It might have missed the minnow. It might have caught it, too. A catfish has a big mouth. From not too far away, a diesel engine fired up. Someone called to someone else. Who these people were and what they wanted was another unknown. They weren’t too far away, though, because there wasn’t much between you and them when you only had twelve acres left. It should be enough, though, if you were careful and everything—positively, absolutely all the things you did—was right. Knowing what was right and what was wrong was still the trick.

“He ought to know what’s happened to us,” Frannie said.

Natalie was trying not to say anything. She felt sorry for Frannie and only wanted to protect her from herself as well as from all the things she knew that Frannie did not yet know.

Though Natalie tried not to speak, the more Frannie said, the more difficult it became for her not to at least say something and just before she did, Jake realized she was about to, and put his arm around her and walked her off toward the other side of the island.

“Because if he knew,” Frannie said, “he might come back.”

She watched her sister and the fiancé disappear around the curve of the island until they were out of sight. Then it was quieter than before. She stared into the water. The catfish slowly rose from below until it floated on the surface.

It opened its obscenely large mouth so wide it looked like it could have swallowed Frannie’s bare foot. When its mouth was open all the way, the catfish screamed, and the scream was so loud and so humanlike that Natalie and Jake came running from the other side of the island.

“Are you okay?”

Frannie now had her knees drawn up to her and she was calm.

“Of course I’m all right,” she said.