Author of the novels Meantime
and Halfway House
"Nicole wasn't actually my stepsister, but no other word fit any better. My father and her mother had fallen in love on a church committee. Breaking up two families would have caused needless damage, and so the adults decided that all seven of us should move to a new house together...."
And so we're introduced to the two unlikely stepsisters at the heart of Meantime. Katharine Noel-- the award winning author of the national bestseller Halfway House--delivers a funny, wise and moving novel of the stories we tell about the past, and how they inform our understanding of the present as well as our choices for the future.
Claire Hood's unconventional upbringing in the "Naked Family"-- as they were infamously nicknamed by their suburban neighbors--taught her to embrace the unexpected. Now in her thirties, Claire has a husband, Jeremy, who longs to start a family, but Claire's blueprint in life is to avoid an ordinary existence at all costs.
At the same time, her stepsister Nicole has set her mind to having a baby on her own. Just as Nicole needs Claire more than ever, Jeremy falls seriously ill and his high school girlfriend resurfaces to lend a hand in his recovery. Everything Claire thinks she values--and everything she imagines about the kind of person she wants to be-- is thrown into question.
With grace, humanity, and humor, Katharine Noel examines the complex, delicate connections between parents and children, spouses, and siblings. Meantime is a heartfelt, insightful novel of how individuals shape and reshape their families-- both given and chosen--while discovering their truest sense of self.
photo by Anna Carson Dewitt
Katharine’s first novel, Halfway House, was a New York Times Editors' Choice, winner of a Ken/NAMI Award for "outstanding literary contributions to a better understanding of mental illness," and winner of the 2006 Kate Chopin prize for fiction. She has been the Writer in Residence at Claremont McKenna College and the Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, where she also held Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote fellowships. Katharine lives with her husband, the writer Eric Puchner, and their children in Baltimore, Maryland, where she teaches at Johns Hopkins University and is at work on a new novel.
Here's the official bio...
And here's a more personal history
When I graduated from college with a degree in English literature, I had no idea what I'd do next. I wanted to write, and I wanted to do work that felt meaningful to me, but I didn't know how I'd pull off either of those things, let alone build a life around both. After a few depressing months of dead ends, wanting a break from job hunting, I called up a odd-sounding farm I'd heard about in the Berkshire Mountains: could they use a volunteer for a few days?
Gould Farm-- where I ended up working and living for the next two years-- is a program that serves adults with mental illnesses. Their core philosophy is that it's inherently therapeutic to do work necessary for the community-- digging potatoes, chopping wood, milking cows, baking bread. (If you're interested, you can read more about Gould Farm here.) The people I worked alongside had suffered in ways that put into ridiculous perspective the kind of self-pity in which I sometimes indulged. I could feel my sense of empathy being stretched-- a not-painless process-- as I realized how little I knew about living with mental illness, and therefore how little I probably knew about thousands of kinds of lives that were not my own. I didn't write during the two years I spent on the farm, but the time changed me, utterly, as a writer.
I eventually went to graduate school at the University of Arizona, where I fell in love with a fellow writer, Eric Puchner. We moved to Mexico and taught English while we worked on books--in my case, the first draft of Halfway House, a novel about a family grappling with mental illness. When Eric and I left Mexico, we moved to the Mission in San Francisco --where, much later, I'd set my second novel Meantime. (Our landlord, while otherwise nothing like the one in Meantime, did toss back little containers of half-and-half like shots.)
A few years into our time in San Francisco, I won a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, a gift for which I'm grateful beyond words. Eric and I published our first books, had a baby girl, worked at non-profits, and then began teaching as adjuncts. (During this time, Eric wrote, and I annotated, an essay on living with another writer: you can read it here.) Eventually, we moved to L.A. to teach at Claremont McKenna College We had a baby son. When we were offered jobs at Johns Hopkins, we moved again. I wrote (as I think most people balancing parenthood, work and writing do) when I could scrape together not just the time but the focus to dive back into the world I'd created and hold myself there.
Since finishing Meantime, I've been working on a new book set in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore. Halfway House took me eight drafts and Meantime, twelve, and so the first draft is very much still honeymoon period for me, a time when I can fool myself that the book will fulfill every one of my ambitions for it. This new novel is sprawling, political, told from multiple perspectives, the kind of novel that Henry James called (not admiringly) a "loose, baggy monster." Luckily-- much as I revere James-- I love loose baggy monsters.
Essay on Siblings in YA lit: link coming soon
A book that helped make me a writer
Interview on writing Meantime
My first novel, Halfway House:
One day, Angie Voorster-- diligent student, all-star swimmer, and Ivy League-bound high school senior-- dives to the bottom of a pool and stays there. In that moment, everything the Voorster family believes they know about each other changes. As Angie swings between manic highs and dangerous lows, the Voorsters struggle to maintain the appearance of an ideal New England family. It is only when Angie is finally able to fend for herself that the family allows itself to fall apart and then regather in a new, fundamentally changed way. Halfway House shows a world where love is imperfect, and longing for an imagined ideal can both destroy one family's happiness and offer it redemption.
Where did we get the idea that families are durable? Christmas cards? Prime time TV? Katharine Noel's sure-footed debut, "Halfway House," tells the darker truth: most families — the ordinary ones, the sturdy-looking ones — are tinderboxes. Spark them and they blow.
--New York Times