Minot, Susan

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MINOT, Susan

Born 7 December 1956, Manchester, Massachusetts

Daughter of Carrie and George R. Minot; married Davis McHenry, 1988

A short story writer and novelist, Susan Minot earned critical acclaim and success with her first novel, Monkeys (1986). The semiautobiographical work drew on Minot's own experience growing up in a large, middle-class American family. But she has made it clear that Monkeys is fiction, not a memoir. Monkeys chronicles various moments in the lives of the Vincent family: the father, Gus, the mother, Rosie, and their seven children (lovingly called "monkeys" by their mother). The story is told over a span of 13 years (1966-79) primarily by Sophie, the second-oldest child. The novel follows the family as the children grow up, their father slips deeper into his alcoholism, and their mother dies.

The book is a series of interconnected stories, seven of which were previously published as short stories. Each chapter revolves around one incident that either endangers the family union or reaffirms it. While each chapter is complete in itself, they are tied together as a whole by frequent allusions. Monkeys has been both praised and criticized. Those who sing its praises compare Minot's economical yet detailed writing style in the novel to Hemingway, Woolfe, Faulkner, and Salinger. They point to her ability to so wonderfully capture those moments, both mundane and miraculous, that make up family life. And they extol her conveyance of life in a large family through such details as mitten baskets hanging by the back door and wobbly children's tables at Thanksgiving. Those who are more critical of Monkeys focus on its makeup (nine short stories assembled into a novel) and its brevity (176 pages).

After the success of Monkeys, Minot told New Yorker magazine that her life "had sort of gotten complicated.… I had lost my connection to writing." So she left her New York City home and spent the next three months secluded in Tuscany, Italy, working on her second book. Lust and Other Stories (1988), a collection of 12 short stories, focuses on the relationships of a number of young New York City professionals. The book received mixed reviews.

Born and raised in a suburb north of Boston, Minot, like the Vincent children, grew up with six brothers and sisters. She was the second oldest. She began writing at thirteen when she went away to Concord Academy, a boarding school, and joined the staff of the literary magazine. She attended Boston University from 1974-75 and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in English in 1978. During her senior year at Brown, Minot's mother was killed in a car accident. After graduating, Minot returned home to take care of her father and younger sister. She continued to write, and at twenty-two she enrolled in the M.F.A. graduate writing program at Columbia University. The first short stories she sold (to Grand Street and the New Yorker) later became part of Monkeys.

During her career, Minot has an editorial assistant at the New York Review of Books, an assistant editor at Grand Street, taught writing workshops at Columbia, and became an adjunct professor at New York University. She has also earned a living as a waitress and a bookstore clerk. Her awards and honors include the Prix Femina in 1988 for Monkeys, the O. Henry award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1985 and 1988, and the Pushcart Prize for the Best of the Small Presses.

Minot's newest work again revolves around family relationships. In Evening (1998), Ann Lord, a sixty-five-year-old woman dying of cancer, vividly relives a weekend affair with the greatest love of her life, all the while her grown children gather around her deathbed thinking their mother's mind is blank. Minot once told a reporter "I haven't figured out how to write about things I don't have some contact with." Evening, which she worked on for more than a year before even deciding on a story, point of view, or length, started out as a novella titled "Report from Nurse Brown." This shorter story survives as a chapter in the novel. Minot says the book became a "meditation" of what it must feel like to gradually die. She says part of the reason for writing Evening was watching her grandmother slowly die. She wanted to "put myself in the mind of someone who was lying there knowing that she was going to die." The reviews of the book have been overwhelmingly positive.

Minot was also working on a screen adaptation of Evening for Disney. This is not her first foray into scriptwriting: she also wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty. She has a collection of short stories almost complete and has started another book, tentatively titled My Life with No One, about a young man in search of his soul.

Other Works:

Folly (1994).


CA (1992). CLC 44 (1987). Lewis, J., "Imagining the End," in Los Angeles Weekly (26 Nov. 1998).