Born in MO; married a jazz pianist; children: Miles. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. (summa cum laude), M.A. (English), A.B.D.; Villanova University, M.A. (mathematics); additional graduate work at Bryn Mawr College.
Home—Philadelphia, PA. Agent—(literary and film) Marly Rusoff, 811 Palmer Rd., Ste. AA, Bronxville, NY 10708; (publicity) Megan Underwood or Lynn Goldberg, Goldberg/McDuffie Communications, 444 Madison Ave., Ste. 3300, New York, NY 10022.
Writer. Member of faculty, Taos Writers' Conference and University of California, Los Angeles; has also taught creative writing at University of Pennsylvania and mathematics at Bryn Mawr College. Has worked variously as a waitress, jazz musician, keypunch operator, and an office cleaner.
Fellowships in English and mathematics.
The Song Reader, Downtown Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Shout down the Moon, Downtown Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Once upon a Day, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2006.
The Cure for Modern Life, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to books, including Cold Feet and Lit Riffs, and to periodicals, including Seventeen, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Albuquerque Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Pages.
Lisa Tucker's novels echo with music, with its ability to uplift as well as bring down, with its meaning, its performance, and its pervasive influence. Tucker's characters know of life's struggles and how to use their talents and determination to rise above difficult odds. Leeann Norris narrates the story of herself and her sister in The Song Reader, Tucker's first novel. The sisters' absentee father walked out seven years before the time the novel begins, and their mother was killed in an automobile accident three years ago. Twenty-three-year-old Mary Beth serves as both sibling and parent to eleven-year-old Leeann, and to Mary Beth's adopted son, two-year-old Tommy, in a small Missouri town in the early 1980s. Mary Beth supports the family by working as a waitress, but her other "job" is her true passion: operating a small business as a song reader. Her clients experience a common phenomenon: sometimes a snippet of song will get stuck in their heads, repeating over and over. Other times, a fragment of lyric would seem suddenly significant, or a tune will trigger powerful emotions. As a song reader, Mary Beth interprets the meaning of the lyrics or music repeating themselves in her clients' heads. She finds the associations between songs and current and past emotional states; she knits together seemingly disparate connections between music and lyric and psychological condition.
At first well-accepted by the community, popular perception of Mary Beth's song-reading concern turns vicious when a client attempts suicide based on Mary Beth's counseling. The near-suicide also exposes a local scandal. Mary Beth's own psyche collapses as a result, and she is hospitalized. It then falls to Leeann to help Mary Beth recover, to locate their father, and to reconstruct the shattered family. "Tucker portrays characters with great depth who will tug at readers' heartstrings," commented Shelley A. Glantz in Kliatt. "Tucker's assured debut novel is an achingly tender narrative about grief, love, madness, and crippling family secrets," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. And Booklist critic Carolyn Kubisz called the book an "engaging and bittersweet story of compassion, forgiveness, and the search for redemption," concluding that "this is a wonderful first novel."
"I think everybody senses that music has something to do with memory," Tucker said in an interview in Publishers Weekly. "When you're driving down the street and hear a song from a high school dance on the radio, you find yourself thinking about that dance." Songs often come back to people unbidden, whether triggered by a thought or something in the environment. "I couldn't help wondering: Why that particular song? Why now?" Tucker remarked. "Could the song have entered your mind at this point in your life because it was telling you something you needed to know?"
Patty Taylor, the protagonist of Tucker's second novel, Shout down the Moon, is also well-attuned to the rigors of struggle. A talented jazz singer, Patty is intent on making a career of music despite her disreputable manager and the band's disdain. She knows that music will make life better for her and her two-year-old son, Willie. After enduring repeated homelessness, the grinding drudgery of dead-end jobs, and devastating personal relationships, snide remarks or sleazy marketing campaigns are trivial obstacles to her career. When Rick, Willie's drug-dealer father, is released from prison, he tracks Willie and Patty down, and she finds herself faced with staying the course toward the dream she has found for herself or being drawn back into the violent, hopeless world that Rick represents and lives in. "Tucker's compulsively readable tale deftly moves over the literary landscape, avoiding genre classification; it succeeds as a subtle romance, an incisive character study, and compelling woman-in-peril noir fiction," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Tucker has stripped Patty's voice of all artifice," wrote Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist, "and her straight-from-the-heart narration is instantly gripping."
In the 2006 novel Once upon a Day, "the gifted Tucker tells a compelling love story with uncommon empathy and grace," according to Booklist contributor Joanne Wilkinson. After her father becomes seriously ill, twenty-three-year-old Dorothea O'Brien leaves their isolated New Mexico ranch, called the Sanctuary, to find her missing older brother, Jimmy. Dorothea, who has never read a newspaper, listened to the radio, or watched television, arrives in St. Louis, where she believes Jimmy has gone in search of answers to the mysteries surrounding the family's past. Dorothea meets grieving cabdriver Stephen Spaulding, who left his medical practice after the tragic deaths of his wife and young daughter, "and as they spend more time together her purity and innocence, not to mention her enthusiastic hunger for sex, draw him back into the world she's just discovering," observed Gregory Cowles in the New York Times Book Review. A parallel narrative set in the 1970s centers on singer Lucy Dobbins, her husband, Hollywood director Charles Keenan, and a violent attack on their home by intruders. "The tour de force resolution that ties both stories together is a lyrically poignant reminder of the necessity of hope," wrote a critic in Publishers Weekly. Library Journal contributor Andrea Tarr remarked: "Readers will find this captivating, fish-out-of-water fairy tale and mystery-suspense-romance difficult to put down."
In The Cure for Modern Life, which many readers considered Tucker's best novel to date, a pharmaceutical company executive faces uncomfortable questions about his ethical choices after he meets two young homeless kids whose mother's drug abuse has brought ruin to the family. Matthew, head of a company that makes the best-selling pain relief drug in the country, has alienated Amelia, his medical-researcher girlfriend, because of his emotional coldness. But she comes back into his life when she and her new love interest, Ben, agree to help Matthew help the kids. Critics appreciated the novel's successful mix of exciting plot and serious social themes. Norah Piehl, writing on the Bookreporter.com Web site, observed that the book "is both impressively ambitious in scope and startlingly intimate in its explorations." Rob Dougherty, commenting in Publishers Weekly, praised the novel's "captivating" characters and "intricate plot," while Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, felt that The Cure for Modern Life confirms Tucker's talent as a "natural-born storyteller."
Unlike many critics who commented favorably on Tucker's handling of complex social issues in the novel, a writer for Kirkus Reviews felt that Tucker "neglects these substantive issues" and favors instead "a tearjerker ending and a sappy romance." Likewise, Library Journal contributor Teresa L. Jacobsen described the novel as "a romantic fable awkwardly packaged within a bioethical treatise." A writer for Publishers Weekly, however, hailed The Cure for Modern Life as an "enjoyable literary page-turner" from a "gifted writer with a wide range and a profound sense of compassion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Carolyn Kubisz, review of The Song Reader, pp. 1380-1381; February 15, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Shout down the Moon, p. 1039; March 1, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Once upon a Day, p. 68; January 1, 2008, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Cure for Modern Life, p. 38.
Denver Post, May 4, 2003, Robin Vidimos, "Song Stuck in One's Head Holds Meaning," p. EE3.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of The Song Reader, p. 267; February 1, 2004, review of Shout down the Moon, p. 108; January 1, 2006, review of Once upon a Day, p. 15; February 1, 2008, review of The Cure for Modern Life.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Shelley A. Glantz, review of The Song Reader, p. 22.
Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Patricia Gulian, review of The Song Reader, p. 128; March 15, 2006, review of Once upon a Day, p. 65; April 1, 2006, Andrea Tarr, "Lisa Tucker: Q&A," p. 84; February 1, 2008, Teresa L. Jacobsen, review of The Cure for Modern Life, p. 65.
New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2006, Gregory Cowles, "Fiction Chronicle," review of Once upon a Day, p. 204.
People, April 12, 2004, Marisa Sandora Carr, review of Shout down the Moon, p. 64.
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 24, 2003, "Song Reader: There's More to the Lyrics Than Just the Music"; May 24, 2006, Susan Balee, "Lisa Tucker's Once upon a Day Is Sprawling, Short on Humor and Nuance."
Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003, review of The Song Reader, p. 50, and Kevin Howell, "Facing the Music," p. 51; December 22, 2003, review of Shout down the Moon, p. 33; November 28, 2005, review of Once upon a Day, p. 20; November 5, 2007, review of The Cure for Modern Life, p. 39; March 3, 2008, "Rob Dougherty, Clinton Book Shop, Clinton, N.J," p. 9; April 28, 2008, review of The Cure for Modern Life, p. 133.
Salt Lake Tribune, August 3, 2003, Christy Karras, "Music, Memory Harmonize in Tucker's The Song Reader," p. D4.
School Library Journal, August, 2003, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The Song Reader, p. 188; July, 2004, Jackie Gropman, review of Shout down the Moon, p. 132.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 25, 2003, review of The Song Reader, p. 6.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2003, review of The Song Reader, p. 232.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 12, 2007), interview with Tucker; Nora Piehl, review of The Cure for Modern Life.
Lisa Tucker Home Page,http://www.lisatucker.com (June 12, 2008).
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (June 12, 2008), Kirstin Merrihew, review of The Cure for Modern Life.
Pennsylvania Gazette Online,http://www.upenn.edu/ (June 27, 2008), "First Fictions," interview with Lisa Tucker.