Berne, Suzanne 1961-
BERNE, Suzanne 1961-
Born January 17, 1961, in Washington, DC; daughter of Henry (a psychotherapist) and Patricia (a psychologist; maiden name, Higgins) Berne; married Kenneth Kimmell (an attorney), September 24, 1989; children: Avery Patricia, Louisa Berne Kimmell. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1982; University of Iowa Writers Workshop, M.F.A., 1985. Politics: Democrat.
Agent—Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency, Box 668, Winchester, MA 01890.
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, expository writing preceptor, 1988-92, member of extension school faculty, 1989-95, Radcliffe College Seminars faculty member, 1990-93, instructor in fiction, 1995-99, Department of English Briggs-Copeland fellow, 1999-2000, visiting lecturer in English, 2000-01.
PEN New England Center.
College Fiction Award, Ms. magazine, 1981; Bay Area fiction award, 1987; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1994; PEN/Discovery Honoree for Fiction, 1995; Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant, 1996; Art Seidenbaum Award finalist, Los Angeles Times, and Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist, Mystery Writers of America, all 1997, and Orange Prize (Great Britain), 1999, all for A Crime in the Neighborhood; Notable Book designation, New York Times, 1997, for A Crime in the Neighborhood and 2001, for A Perfect Arrangement.
A Crime in the Neighborhood, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1997.
A Perfect Arrangement, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 2001.
Contributor of essays to anthologies, including The Place Within: Essays on Landscape by Twenty Contemporary American Writers, W. W. Norton (New York, NY); and, The Quiet Center: Women Writers Reflecting on Life's Passages, Hearst Books. Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Epoch, Threepenny Review, Cimarron Review, Playgirl, Mademoiselle, Conjunctions, and Ms; contributor of essays and reviews to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, New York Times, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, Boston Globe Magazine, Bloomsbury Review, Boston Review, Belles Lettres, Commonweal, Victoria, House Beautiful, San Francisco Chronicle, Guardian, and Independent.
Berne's novels have been translated into several languages.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Mark Twain's Daughters (working title), a novel, for Algonquin Books; more short fiction.
Suzanne Berne is a family-oriented writer who focuses her novels on the average suburban neighborhood. Her ability to communicate the fragility of her characters' emotions and circumstances has been praised by several critics, along with the genuine feeling and emotion behind her writing.
Berne's multi-award-winning debut novel, 1997's A Crime in the Neighborhood, takes place in the early 1970s and focuses on the Eberhardt family as they are rocked by the adultery of father Larry, the brutal murder of a young neighborhood boy, and the unfolding Watergate scandal. Berne's narrator, the daughter of Larry Eberhardt, tells the story as a grown woman, recounting her experiences and emotions as an impressionable ten year old. Dubbing the novel an "impressive literary debut," Booklist contributor Michele Leber cited as impressive the author's ability to express "the potentially devastating effects of one person's actions on others." Praising the novel's "seamless narrative structure" and "extraordinary sense of lightness and suspense," a Publishers Weekly contributor cited A Crime in the Neighborhood as "a resonant portrait of a girl's, a community's and a country's loss of innocence."
In her second novel, A Perfect Arrangement Berne once again chooses to focus on a family overcoming the difficulties of modern life. Here a married couple struggles to reconnect after having been emotionally distant due to busy schedules and the demands of job and family. Meanwhile the seemingly perfect caregiver they hired for their children appears to be unusually possessive. Imbued with "chilling inevitability, this carefully observed, beautifully written book proceeds to a horrifying finale," remarked Judith Kicinski in a review for Library Journal. While a Publishers Weekly contributor criticized Berne's characters as "studiously drawn archetypes," the reviewer gave the novel high marks overall. "Berne is an assured writer and is at her best with careful, observant descriptions of family life," the Publishers Weekly contributor concluded.
Berne told CA: "In trying to think of something interesting to say about my writing process, I find that not much comes to mind that hasn't already been said, with varying degrees of eloquence and frustration, by many other writers before me. Not that many other writers have had the same writing process as mine, but there is a good deal of commonality: You sit down, you put something on paper, you rewrite it. Eventually, if you have worked hard enough, and are lucky enough, whatever you wrote gets published. And then you start all over again. People never believe that's all there is to it, and they're right—so much else goes into writing a story than sitting down in front of a piece of paper (or a computer screen nowadays)—but they're also wrong, sitting down and putting something on paper is the writing process.
"The only aspect of my writing process that might be a little unusual is that I like to begin with a technical problem. It makes starting something new seem less intimidating if you start by thinking you're simply experimenting with narrative perspective or shifting tenses or writing about a murder when you've never done anything like that before. That's how I began my first novel, for instance, as a simple exercise: Write about a murder. My second novel began when I decided to try to create three different points of view that all were experiencing the same set of events, but quite differently.
"Doesn't that sound easy? But it takes years and years, after you get started, to make any sense out of those first ideas, however they arrive. At least it takes me year and years. I spent seven years writing a novel that will never be published (because it's not very good). The next one took five. The one I am working on now, which began as an exercise having to do with writing about history, has already taken three and who knows when it will be done. Flannery O'Connor once said that being a fiction writer requires 'a grain of stupidity,' the need to stare and stare before you understand something. I would agree with that analysis."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1997, Michele Leber, review of A Crime in the Neighborhood, p. 1385.
Library Journal, May 1, 2001, Judith Kicinski, review of A Perfect Arrangement, p. 125.
Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, review of A Crime in the Neighborhood, p. 59; April 16, 2001, review of A Perfect Arrangement, p. 45.*