Finalist, 2015 Midwest Book Award
Chicago Book Review Best Book of 2015
Set in the frozen wasteland of Midwestern academia, The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath introduces Wilson A. Lavender, father of three, instructor of women’s studies, and self-proclaimed genius who is beginning to think he knows nothing about women. He spends much of his time in his office not working on his dissertation, a creative piece titled “The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath.” A sober alcoholic, he also spends much of his time not drinking, until he hooks up with his office mate, Alice Cherry, an undercover stripper who introduces him to “the buffer”—the chemical solution to his woes.
Wilson’s wife, Katie, is an anxious hippie, genuine earth mother, and recent PhD with no plans other than to read People magazine, eat chocolate, and seduce her young neighbor—a community college student who has built a bar in his garage. Intelligent and funny, Katie is haunted by a violent childhood. Her husband’s “tortured genius” both exhausts and amuses her.
The Lavenders’ stagnant world is roiled when Katie’s pregnant sister, January, moves in. Obsessed with her lost love, ’80s rocker Stevie Flame, January is on a quest to reconnect with her glittery, big-haired past. A free spirit to the point of using other people’s toothbrushes without asking, she drives Wilson crazy.
Exploring the landscape of family life, troubled relationships, dreams of the future, and nightmares of the past, Knutsen has conjured a literary gem filled with humor and sorrow, Aqua Net and Scooby-Doo, diapers and benzodiazepines—all the detritus and horror and beauty of modern life.
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Kimberly Knutsen is professor of English at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she holds a PhD in English from Western Michigan University and an MA from New Mexico State University. Her short stories have appeared in Cimarron Review and Hawai'i Review.
“A joyous exploration of pain and the price that comes with the refusal to settle, this is a stunning first novel.”
—Chicago Book Review
“A blend of tragicomedy and waning romance, The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath explores uncomfortable material. Sharply drawn, claustrophobic settings and strong personalities add up to a promising academic novel.”
“I loved this book—it reminded me in some ways of J.D. Salinger's writings and even Plath herself. It is an exquisitely constructed and deeply layered book; insightful, poetic and often tragic, which deals with so many themes that the reader can relate and resonate with.”
“I loved reading The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath. Knutsen’s characters are wise and wise-cracking, self-aware and self-deluded; in short, participants in the age-old battle of head vs. heart. This author knows how to render the ordinary world—of marriage and parenthood and suburbia—with extraordinary art and poetry. And without losing sight of the humor of our daily entanglements with family and self. A pleasure, from start to finish.”
—Antonya Nelson, author of Funny Once
“Knutsen writes clear and lovely prose. Her details and descriptions are vivid and surprising. She does an excellent job with setting and is skilled at subtly weaving in details that establish theme. I’m hooked by Knutsen’s prose, images, and metaphors.”
—Diana Joseph, author of I'm Sorry You Feel That Way
“An ambitious first novel.”
“Consistently funny and well-observed. The detailing and the language are excellent, and the novel is a pleasure to read. It does a brilliant job of exploring how people fall away from a conventional life: some tricky combination of damage, desire, and depression makes these characters both want more and seem unable to get it.”
—Andy Mozina, author of The Women Were Leaving the Men and Quality Snacks
“Like a seven-act Shakespearian tragedy, honest and absolutely heartbreaking . . . amazing in its darkness and its light . . . the writing is incredible.”
—Curtis Dawkins, BULL: Men’s Fiction
"Knutsen explores questions of identity and the muddiness of dependency within families. . . . Ultimately, Knutsen exposes her characters' harshest, most authentic selves as they confront the conflict between responsibility and desire."
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