The Bookshelf is NHPR's series on authors and books with ties to the Granite State. All Things Considered host Peter Biello features authors, covers literary events and publishing trends, and gets recommendations from each guest on what books listeners might want to add to their own bookshelves.
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This week, The Bookshelf features novelist Diane Les Becquets. She’s a professor of English and faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA program in fiction and nonfiction and she’s a member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. Her new novel is called Breaking Wild.
In this novel, a woman named Amy Raye Latour sets off into the Colorado wilderness alone to hunt and loses her way. When she doesn’t turn up the next morning, a search team sets into motion, and at the center of that search team is ranger Pru Hathaway. And as Pru learns more about Amy Raye’s troubled past, she becomes more and more emotionally invested in finding Amy Ray, and bringing her home. Scroll down to read a list of the top five books on Les Becquets' bookshelf, listen to her conversation with Peter Biello, or read the transcript.
Diane Les Becquets' Top 5 Book Recommendations:
1. In the Evil Day by Richard Adams Carey. "Filled with tension, empathy, and impeccable research, this book takes the reader not only through the thick of the 1997, cold-blooded murders in Colebrook, New Hampshire, but also into the lives and culture of the state’s beautiful North Country. This book left me with a grief and reverence I will never forget."
2. Without a Map by Meredith Hall. "This memoir is a personal odyssey of a young woman emotionally abandoned and forced to give up her baby for adoption. She subsequently walks from country to country, across Europe, the Middle East, eventually rebuilding a quiet life in Maine, and reacquainting herself with her lost son. Along the way she has experienced marriage, which though it did not last, blessed her with two additional children. Together, Hall and her three children build a cabin in the woods. A young woman lost finds the strength every woman wishes she had."
3. Pack of Two: the Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp. "This memoir is written by a young woman who died far too young from the clutches of cancer. But before she became acquainted with that disease, she experienced the loss of both her parents, and had been controlled by a twenty-year love affair with the bottle. Without a family of her own, Knapp adopted a mixed breed dog from the shelter. This book is a beautiful exploration of the wonderful and complex relationship between woman and her dog."
4. The Hours by Michael Cunningham. “This Pulitzer Prize winning novel masterfully intertwines the story of Virginia Woolf with two contemporary women. The lives of these three women unfold in alternating chapters as the author explores their inner lives and the hours and moments upon which their lives are made. ‘There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined….’”
5. Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. “In the 1930s, Rawlings, a failed novelist in a failing marriage, purchased a farmhouse and a citrus grove in rural Florida. This memoir is a beautiful meditation, detailing her struggles during that time and her relationship with the land and its people. Rawlings captures the new life she built for herself before emerging as a Pulitzer Prize winning author.”
So, tell us about these two women at the center of this book, Amy Raye Latour and Pru Hathaway. These are two women who can in some ways relate to each other and in some ways they can’t, but tell us about them.
Sure. I first started with the characters Pru Hathaway, and I would say that she was easy for me to wrap my head around, because I felt like she was most like me. She was a woman who had experienced a great deal of grief, and is more of a cause-and-effect person. She also was a single mom; she’s raising a teenage son. I have three sons of my own and was a single mom for a number of years.
Amy Raye is somebody completely different, as much as she loves the wilderness, as do I. And I think she has a great deal of depth and complexity to her, and at times people have said I’m very complicated. She’s very different, and she evolved much later than Pru.
So when I first began writing the book, I didn’t know it was going to have two points of view. That developed later. It was after the passing of my second husband, Sean Hathaway—which is where Pru’s last name comes from—that I developed Amy Raye. And I felt like Amy Raye had a lot of the personality traits as my late husband, and I was trying to understand those complexities better, and in doing so I wrote about Amy as an attempt to better understand him.
Well, that’s really interesting. And, forgive me, I’m going to have to really dig into that, because Amy Raye is not necessarily above board in all of her behavior. She had some adultery in her past, some compulsions, she feels very guilty about all those things, and of course she’s got a troubled childhood. Is that part of where you were with your husband?
Well, he would speak to me a lot about the demons in his past and difficulties he had in committing, difficulties he went through as a child. He was just a very, very perceptive young man. He was brilliant in my mind. He was also incredibly sensitive. And I think when you combine those traits, sometimes it can make life difficult for you. I don’t want to reveal too much personally, but I just think life was difficult for him at times and he was incredibly aware, he was incredibly generous—we didn’t have enough time, period. And, in writing this book, it allowed for me to have more time with him in some ways to understand his deeper levels.
But Farrell, Amy Raye’s husband, truly does love her.
He does. I know I’ve said that Pru is a lot like me, but I also felt like I captured Sean and my relationship by writing about Farrell, because what I felt for Sean during that period, what it was for me was it was a gift in unconditional love, because I knew, wow, I am capable of truly loving someone. And I don’t mean just loving a child, loving your parent—that’s a given. But I think sometimes we’re not sure how capable we are of absolutely completely loving someone. And through that relationship I knew that I was.
In some ways, your book is a reminder of how complicated it can be.
So complicated. There’s a passage early in the book where Farrell and Amy Raye are talking, and they’re having their pillow talk, as Sean and I would often do, and I think as a lot of couples do, right? And it really to me questioned, what is love? In fact, Amy Raye asks Farrell that: What is love? Tell me, what is it? People expect it to be this great emotional high. Is love like that, or is it common? And if love is common, then what’s so great about it?
I remember that scene. Their definitions contrasted so vividly.
And hers was, forgive me I can’t remember the exact wording right now, but it struck me as a little more business-like.
Right, hers is analytical. It’s breaking it down in a very scientific way, and she’s wanting the evidence. For Farrell, it’s more about faith, and he says that I think at one point love is a lot like faith, it’s believing in what you can’t see.
I wanted to ask you also about one element in the book the figures prominently, and that’s nature and the outdoors. Amy Raye gets lost of course while she’s hunting solo, which is kind of a dangerous thing to do. Are you a hunter?
I am. I was much more so of a hunter out in Colorado, but yeah. I think that there’s a reason for this. I wanted to put Amy Raye as close to nature as possible. I want it to be an incredibly intimate experience for her for a reason, because I chose the setting of the book as a metaphor for these female character’s internal geography. And as she’s trying to overcome this wilderness, in some ways that’s her trying to overcome the wilderness within her.
And speaking of wilderness, you actually went into the wilderness of New Hampshire to finish this book. Tell us about what it took to finish this book.
To finish the book, I just felt like I was stuck on those last two chapters, and I have a good friend, a former colleague from SNHU, and she said, you know I’ve got a hunting camp, she opened it up for me to go use. So, I went up, drove a little bit too far, got to the Canadian border and realized I had not found the hunting camp yet. It was at night, there was a snowstorm, and finally I found a dirt road that wandered off and found the hunting camp. It was very simple: one room, no electricity, no internet; and I would charge my laptop in my car. And I packed a cooler, ate a lot of ramen noodles, lot of fruit, and I finished the book. And I think I drove home, it was Halloween night when I drove back and I had finished the novel.