Michael Kardos ’92
In 2012, The New York Times Book Review wrote, “Michael Kardos’ first novel, The Three Day Affair, is so disturbing it makes you wonder what he might have in mind for his second book.” That novel, Before He Finds Her, takes readers to a small town on the Jersey Shore where, 15 years before, Ramsey Miller murdered his wife and three-year-old daughter. Everyone in the town of Silver Bay knows the story, but the story they know isn’t correct. Ramsey’s daughter, Melanie Denison, wasn’t murdered. She is living in a witness-protection program and, at 17, is pregnant.
Driven by the hope of providing a normal life for her child, Melanie returns to Silver Bay to find her father before he finds her. Kardos intertwines the story of Melanie’s search with an account of the days leading up to the murder. Probing the complex psychology of his characters, Kardos investigates a fundamental question: Can people really change? Filled with characters who have gone down dangerous paths, the novel explores relationships distorted by blind faith. Continue reading
Michael Brown ’72
As a fledgling anthropologist just four years out of Princeton, Michael Brown ’72 spent 21 months living among the Awajún, an indigenous tribe located in the upper reaches of the rainforests of Peru. He was forced to leave when political turmoil erupted, but decades later he returned to his field notes and rediscovered a world whose complexity and significance he says he had failed to appreciate as a younger, less experienced man.
In Upriver: The Turbulent Life and Times of an Amazonian People, Brown recalls that during his initial fieldwork, he encountered what seemed an exuberant and resourceful culture. But as he dug deeper into the Awajún’s way of life, Brown discovered the prevalence of violent, often murderous, vendettas among the tribe members. Even more disturbing were the rates of suicide from wives who tried to exercise control over their husbands with the threat of their own death.
Brown, who is the president of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and a professor emeritus at Williams College, returned to Awajún in 2012 to write Upriver, which is part memoir, part ethnography. It chronicles Brown’s struggle to make sense of the tensions and conflicts in Awajún life and explores the nature of civilization and independence.
Roberta Isleib ’75
Fifteen years ago, Roberta Isleib ’75 was a practicing clinical psychologist, an avid mystery reader, and a recent convert to the game of golf. Then a friend suggested that she combine her interests and try her hand at writing a golf novel. Two years later, Isleib produced the first draft of Six Strokes Under, a murder mystery starring a female golfer who must overcome psychological setbacks to achieve her dream of playing on the LPGA tour. Today, Isleib is full-time novelist publishing her 13th mystery, Death with All the Trimmings, under her pen name, Lucy Burdette.
The transition from psychologist to full-time writer was surprisingly easy, she says: “In my work as a therapist, I helped people understand themselves by looking for patterns in their family history, and tracing how these might lead to feeling stuck in the present. A detective story is similar: you start with a problem, and then look for clues so you can figure out the solution.” With a nine-month timeline for producing each book, Isleib is a disciplined writer. “I write a thousand words a day. I learned in my psychology training to set small goals and stick to them, rather than feel overwhelmed by the big picture,” she says. Continue reading
Gary Krist ’79
“It is no easy matter to go to heaven by way of New Orleans,” reads the epigraph of Gary Krist ’79’s book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. If readers aren’t convinced of this by page one, they certainly will be by the end of the book: Krist delivers a harrowing tale of a debauched, crime-ridden city as it struggles to raise itself from moral decay.
By the late 1890s, New Orleans’ elite had had enough of the city’s violence, prostitution, drinking, and rampant crime. In an effort to curb the influence of the city’s underworld, the government founded the red-light district of Storyville. There, Tom Anderson, once a scrappy kid from a bad neighborhood, reigned as the aristocratic and wildly popular “mayor.” The streets of Anderson’s domain were populated by cosmopolitan madams, eager customers, corrupt police, and a dangerous serial killer known as “the Axman,” as well as jazz musicians Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. It was on this battleground that New Orleans would wage a war against itself, as underworld and high society fought for dominance.
Library Journal writes that Empire of Sin “proves that truth really is stranger than fiction” while Publishers Weekly applauds Krist for writing a “story more vivid and twist-filled than most crime fiction.” Krist, who also is the author of City of Scoundrels and The White Cascade, says he was drawn to this topic because of “how the social, racial, and moral issues of the times played out” in this unique setting.
Ailish Hopper ’93
For Ailish Hopper ’93, growing up white in Washington, D.C., meant living in a world where “the American drama of race” was played out on a daily basis, she says. She explored issues of race as a certificate student in African American studies at Princeton, and later through her poetry. “It was really only in African American studies that I could begin to understand my history, our history,” Hopper says.
In Hopper’s first book of poetry, Dark~Sky Society, the poem “Ways to be White in a Poem” is about a white female who obliviously reinforces racial stereotypes even as she struggles to be free of the social expectations for women. Other poems obliquely illuminate the effect of race on spaces and relationships. “As a topic, [race] is more than tired; it is exhausted,” Hopper says. “We know The Story. And many of us feel that we have been defeated by it.” The book was a runner-up for the New Issues prize from Western Michigan University. Hopper is an assistant professor at Goucher College.
Matthew Stewart ’85
The American Revolution led to the creation of the world’s first secular republic. According to Matthew Stewart ’85’s new book, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, it was this secular break from the supernatural religion of the British that made America’s independence truly revolutionary. The book offers a reappraisal of the religious and philosophical origins of America’s revolution and shows that it was secularist ideals, not Christian values, that drove the establishment of America’s most cherished freedoms.
To explain his argument, Stewart investigates the prevalence of deism: the belief that an impersonal God expects humans to reason out their own ethical codes. This belief system, which finds its roots in classical, pagan philosophy, was held not only by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but also lesser-known figures like Thomas Young, instigator of the Boston Tea Party. It was these men and their largely secular, rational way of thinking that informed the ideas of personal liberty, religious freedom, and the proper role of governmental power — ideas that are now at the core of America’s most treasured documents.