Naslund, Sena Jeter
Naslund, Sena Jeter
Born in Birmingham, AL; married John C. Morrison (a physicist), 1995; children: (previous marriage) Flora. Education: Attended Birmingham-Southern College; University of Iowa, Ph.D.
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, writer-in-residence; Spalding University, Louisville, program director of the brief residency MFA in writing program.
Lawrence Fiction Prize; awards from National Endowment for the Arts, Kentucky Arts Council, and Kentucky Foundation for Women; Harper Lee Award, Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award; Kentucky Poet Laureate.
Ice Skating at the North Pole: Stories, Ampersand Press (Bristol, RI), 1989.
The Animal Way to Love (novel), Ampersand Press (Bristol, RI), 1993.
Sherlock in Love: A Novel, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1993.
The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1999.
Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Four Spirits: A Novel, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Kathleen Driskell) High Horse: Contemporary Writing by the MFA Faculty of Spalding University, Fleur-de-Lis Press (Louisville, KY), 2005.
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to literary journals. Louisville Review, founder and editor; Fleur-de-lis, founder and editor.
Books adapted for audio include Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel; Four Spirits: A Novel (unabridged; fifteen CDs), Sound Library, BBC Audiobooks America; and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, read by Susanna Burney (abridged; ten CDs), Harper Audio.
After her earliest short fiction appeared in literary journals, Sena Jeter Naslund published the collection Ice Skating at the North Pole: Stories. The individual stories share certain characteristics, according to Library Journal reviewer Marcia Tager, including "a recurring motif" of music or musical instrument; a calamity that damages or threatens a woman's life, and an exploration of "what it means to live, love, work, and make music in the world as it exists for us all." Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg noted Naslund's realistic portrayals of women and their lives, predicting that "her idiosyncratic characters might be advantageously transplanted to a longer work."
Naslund's Sherlock in Love: A Novel was commended by critics, including Library Journal contributor Barbara Hoffert, as the one among several recent Sherlock Holmes spinoffs that "comes closest to achieving the style of [Sir Arthur Conan] Doyle's original work." The novel represents an "attempt to close the one case in which Holmes failed to bring a miscreant to justice," Tobin Harshaw reported in the New York Times Book Review. In Naslund's version, Holmes has died and Dr. Watson is attempting to write a biography of his old friend. When he publishes a newspaper advertisement requesting background information from Holmes's former contacts, he is assailed by all manner of anonymous threats to his safety and invasions of his security arrangements. When he follows clues to this unexpected mystery backward in time, Watson uncovers characters from Holmes's past, including a woman who had masqueraded as a male violinist and a love affair that could surprise die-hard fans of Conan Doyle. In her Booklist review, Donna Seaman described Sherlock in Love as a "cleverly plotted, cheerfully risque adventure," replete with "entertaining … historical references."
If Sherlock in Love was "elegant," as Hoffert asserted, then so are the stories in The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas—"a bit quirkier, a bit more modern, but just as satisfying in their own way." In this collection, a Publishers Weekly contributor reported: "Plot matters less to Naslund than voice, sympathy, setting and tone." Seaman wrote in Booklist: "Each tale begins as though the reader has just opened a door or turned a corner and walked into a conversation."
After listening to audio versions of classics such as Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn with her daughter during a long drive, Naslund came up with the idea for her next book, Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel. In an interview with Leslie Haynesworth for Publishers Weekly, Naslund related: "It irked me a bit to be aware that these two candidates for the title ‘Great American Novel’ had almost no women in them. Half the human race ignored, yet their vision was considered among the most complete, the greatest." Naslund decided to write the story of Moby Dick through the eyes of Una, a young woman who disguises herself as a cabin boy and sets sail on a whaling ship. Una endures a series of horrific adventures, including marriage to a madman, before eventually meeting, and marrying Captain Ahab. Linda Simon, in World and I, wrote: "Ahab's Wife is nothing less than artful and satisfying fiction: a compelling history of a heroic woman." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "Una is a character who is destined to endure."
Four Spirits: A Novel is a historical novel that focuses on the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a time when vicious dogs and fire hoses were used freely by authorities such as Bull Connor to control protestors in the South while Martin Luther King preached nonviolence to his followers. Among the factual events Naslund uses to portray the turmoil of the time is the 1963 deaths of the "Four Spirits" of the title, four black girls who died when their Birmingham, Alabama, church was bombed. A number of vignettes feature characters who ultimately are brought together in their struggle against segregation. Booklist contributor Brad Hooper noted that this results in "a smoothly flowing composite narrative of how life was led at the time and how it was irreparably altered." The main protagonist is Stella Silver, a white college student who is moved to act after witnessing the open celebration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by her Birmingham neighbors. Stella takes a position teaching at a black school, along with her friends Stella and wheelchair-bound Cat, thereby putting her own life at risk. "Told in beautifully crafted prose, this is a moving, historically accurate tale of a time of social transformation," concluded Library Journal reviewer Starr E. Smith.
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette is a fictional memoir in which Naslund reveals the life of the Austrian princess whose life was ended at the age of thirty-eight by the blade of the guillotine. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote: "With vivid detail and exquisite narrative technique, Naslund exemplifies the best of historical fiction." A fourteen-year-old Mary Antoinette was sent from Austria to France by her mother, Archduchess Maria Teresa, to marry Louis Auguste, the Dauphin of France, just one year her senior. The marriage took place four years later and was intended to unite the two countries. As Naslund relates her story, she notes King Louis XVI's impotence and preference to hunt rather than consummate the marriage for many years, their family life and children, and the fashions and culture of the time. Marie's fear for her children and husband as the first rumblings of the French Revolution are felt reflect her love for them. "The author injects humanity into the two as, over the years, they become parents and grow into their authority," commented Emily Chenoweth in People. The Affair of the Diamond Necklace, the false accusation that Marie committed adultery with a cardinal is also incorporated into the story. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan wrote: "Naslund's writing is opulent and fabulous, as encrusted with detail as one of Marie's shimmering dresses." "Naslund has done her homework, and imagined her complex, bewitching protagonist in persuasive depth and detail," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. "The result is an exemplary historical novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of Sherlock in Love: A Novel, p. 257; April 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas, p. 1516; August, 1999, Grace Fill, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel, p. 1988; July, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Four Spirits: A Novel, p. 1846; September 1, 2006, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, p. 57.
Entertainment Weekly, October 8, 1999, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 66; October 6, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of Abundance, p. 74.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2003, review of Four Spirits, p. 984; July 1, 2006, review of Abundance, p. 652.
Library Journal, October 15, 1989, Marcia Tager, review of Ice Skating at the North Pole: Stories, p. 104; September 15, 1993, Barbara Hoffert, review of Sherlock in Love, p. 105; September 1, 1999, Starr E. Smith, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 234; August, 2003, Starr E. Smith, review of Four Spirits, p. 133; August 1, 2006, Anna M. Nelson, review of Abundance, p. 72.
Nation, December 13, 1999, Tom LeClair, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 44.
Newsweek, September 27, 1999, Laura Shapiro, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 67.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1993, Tobin Harshaw, review of Sherlock in Love, p. 24; October 15, 2006, Liesl Schillinger, review of Abundance, p. 15.
People, November 29, 1999, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 63; November 17, 2003, Annette Gallagher Weisman, review of Four Spirits, p. 46; October 30, 2006, Emily Chenoweth, review of Abundance, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Ice Skating at the North Pole, p. 58; September 13, 1993, p. 98; March 8, 1999, review of The Disobedience of Water, p. 48; August 9, 1999, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 340; September 27, 1999, Leslie Haynesworth, interview with Sena Jeter Naslund, p. 65; July 14, 2003, review of Four Spirits, p. 53; May 29, 2006, review of Abundance, p. 32.
School Library Journal, January, 2004, Robert Saunderson, review of Four Spirits, p. 164.
Time, October 25, 1999, Pico Iyer, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 128.
World and I, January, 2000, Linda Simon, review of Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer, p. 260.
Blogcritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/02/01/003222.php (February 1, 2006), G.L. Hauptfleisch, review of Four Spirits.
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (February 21, 2007), interview with Sena Jeter Naslund.
Sena Jeter Naslund Home Page,http://www.senajeternaslund.com (February 21, 20007).