I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
December 1, 2020: Anne Korkeakivi
Anne Korkeakivi lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Normally, she splits her time between there and New York City, but as we all know, these days are not normal. She is the author of two novels, both of which begin with a husband and a wife in the middle of a marriage. But after that similarity, the novels veer in different directions.
In an interview at The Woolf, Anne compares the two novels.
[T]he structural and narrative choices for each of my novels came as a function of the story it told. An Unexpected Guest is, in certain ways, a literary thriller. Taut timing and a singular perspective are integral to it. Shining Sea is about life and the effect of historical events on generations—it stretches.
An Unexpected Guest is her first novel and begins in Paris in the wife’s point of view with Clare planning a dinner party for her ambassador husband Edward.
Edward didn’t know with what care, during the two decades they had been married, she’d avoided stepping foot on Irish soil. He didn’t realize she’d ever even been to Dublin. Edward knew when she woke she would brush her teeth both before and after breakfast.
Smiling is often overdone as a response in fiction but take a look at the way Anne uses it in this next passage.
He kissed her, and she smiled as he closed his briefcase, and smiled as he drew on his suit jacket. She smiled until she heard the front door of the Residence click shut behind him. Then she stopped smiling and placed both hands on the breakfast table.
Still at the breakfast table on page 8, notice how Anne amps up the narrative tension yet again.
Clare folded her breakfast napkin. If she could keep her cool last night, she could keep it this morning. She could keep it through the day, and through the dinner. She could even keep it in Dublin. She had experience controlling fear.
Echoing her normal life, Anne’s second novel, Shining Sea, takes place in the US, beginning in California. It opens with the husband Michael in the early stage of a heart attack. Here is the first sentence.
A crowd of sparrows flies up, peppering the California sky overhead. His heart constricts, and Michael Gannon thinks: Today is the day I am going to die.
In the next section, we’re in his wife’s point of view. At the time of the heart attack, Barbara is not yet forty and pregnant with their fourth child. Shortly thereafter, she wonders,
This life of hers as a grown woman happened, bang, just like that… How do people get from point A to point B in their lives? When did this happen?
Shining Sea shows us. It’s the story of an American family, how it grows and changes shape, and ultimately covers miles and miles and years and years.
At the first of this year, Anne wrote an article for Architectural Digest on the restoration of Yaddo, the artist’s residence in Saratoga Springs, New York. In the early 2000’s, when I attended the New York State Summer Writers Institute, I loved to sit and walk in the public gardens there.
Following the successive deaths of all four of their children, aged from 12 days to 11 years old, between 1880 and 1890, financier Spencer and writer Katrina Trask in 1900 bequeathed the near entirety of their considerable fortune toward establishing an artists’ retreat on their rambling estate…
Anne’s 2017 op-ed for USA Today on being a writer, being an expat, and universal healthcare was shared tens of thousands of times, and her essay about traveling in Tanzania with her family was chosen for Best Women’s Travel Writing, Vol. 10. In addition to Architectural Digest, her short fiction and nonfiction have been published by The Atlantic, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times (UK), Travel & Leisure, and by many other journals in the US, the UK, and online. She is a recipient of the Lois Kahn Wallace Writers Award and residency fellowships from Yaddo and Hawthornden.
Stay well and…
Come back on DECEMBER 1st to read how ANNE KORKEAKIVI spends her days.
I do like how Anne over uses and negates the trope of smiling to create narrative tension! The cover of her first novel really sets the scene. This would certainly be a difficult time to be an expat. My husband and I had to indefinitely postpone our sabbatical in London, but we are getting work done on our books at home.
Thanks for reading, Sarah. It’s nice to have London to look forward to at some point… Happy holidays to you and your family.