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Reading Cleaning Nabokov’s House in Onkwedo (Ithaca Blog)

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Reading Cleaning Nabokov’s House in Onkwedo

Author Leslie Daniels to Appear in Ithaca

We knew nothing of the history of my childhood home, or rather the land it was built on, until we began to dig for the brick patio in the backyard. The first license plate showed up just days into the project, to be followed by a nearly complete bumper and I remember one of my parents remarking, “I thought this was farmland?”  The entire area surrounding the housing development we called home was farmland, most of it fallow soy bean fields and soon to become cookie cutter housing developments as well. Except for Von Thun’s, the single working farm which still sits amidst housing developments in the center of the town, it became a suburb overnight. Today, traveling back, there’s no evidence of the farming history, instead it’s known as home to New Jersey’s pharmaceutical corridor, but I credit, at least in part, those discoveries with my mother’s sudden interest in antiques.

More recently, I had a friend who moved into a house and began finding pottery shards strewn through the garden out back.  The house itself sat nestled against one of those formidable Ithaca hills leading up to Cornell and Collegetown with a stone retaining wall designed to keep the hill, or perhaps Collegetown, at bay. Clearing undergrowth and fallen tree limbs from this area soon revealed a stone kiln abutting the wall. As a fan of pottery, I might argue that a kiln should never seem out of place, but it had fallen into such disrepair, had all but been washed away by overgrown plants from the roadside and gardens that it seemed, sadly, remarkably, out of place. And somehow out of time. Curiosity piqued, my friend asked the landlord about it only to learn that the home had once been Ezra Cornell’s pottery studio.

Leslie DanielsAs a writer myself, I’m often fascinated, with the spaces we inhabit, the homes we choose, or the ones that choose us. We often call on the spaces in our life for the characters we create, or arguably, the ones who come to us. It’s why I was so interested in Leslie Daniels‘ debut novel [amazonify]B005EP1Q3G::text::::Cleaning Nabokov’s House[/amazonify]. The protagonist, Barb Barrett, is seemingly led to her home in the fictional town of Onkwedo, loosely based on Ithaca, where her life is unraveling at a scary pace, until she finds herself living in Vladimir Nabokov’s house.

“There I was,” she says, “sitting in the same space as had Vladimir Nabokov, one of the literary gods of our times, trying to write. I’d started a series of short essays about death and food and love. Eventually that writing started to take shape as a novel. The character Barb emerged. She was funny, vicious, and despairing, caught in a nothing-left-to-lose time of her life. Unfortunately (for me), Barb found a manuscript that might have been written by Nabokov.

“I never intended to write about Nabokov, it’s so clearly a wretched and scary idea for a writer. It was ludicrous.  I had to write the section where the protagonist, Barb, had to ‘fake Nabokov.’ I sweated writing that.  Clammy, cold, sweat, the sweat of fear. I had to include my feelings of presumption in my writing or I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all.”

But, much like our homes often call to us, so do our characters and thus, with the combination of the two in Daniels’ skillful hands, the outcome, a simultaneously funny and slightly disturbing novel, seems almost inevitable. While Barb’s actions in the novel sometimes seem very reactive, fly-by-the-seat of her pants responses to the world around her, with only the home, the house, the sense of space and place anchoring her, Leslie’s upcoming schedule is anything but scattershot.

Cleaning Nabokov's HouseIn celebration of the paperback release of Cleaning Nabokov’s House, Leslie will be reading in several locations across the Northeast and Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts is offering a one time writing workshop led by Leslie in Ithaca later this spring.  With a background in acting and improvisation, the reading part is something she enjoys.

“I love to make people laugh, to move them,” she says.

“The main purpose of a reading is to entertain people, to build delight in the experience of the book. For me the ideal reading gives the very opening and smidges from the rest of the book, with plenty of introjections and asides that let the listeners to know the author more, and understand their journey with their work. Writing is so solitary that it is a magical experience to actually see people connect with your work. It is very generous for people to invest the time in listening, and I try to make it utterly worth their while, giving them the story of the book, or the story of writing, or a different story that might fit with that particular group.”

In other words, you should check her out more than once! For a full list of her upcoming events, check out her website here. Certainly catch her in Ithaca on March 14th, 6pm at Buffalo Street Books or at Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts on April 21st.

Jennifer B. Brown is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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