My new novel JOY, PA has been walking the streets, seeking a home, for several months now. Here are some of the closed doors.
“ How spectacular this is. How searing and brilliant. How deeply, deeply dark—and sad. But I can’t quite do it. Being so tangibly in that world is too hard, even for this lover of the darker American realities. I’m sure this will speak to someone though and Joy, PA, will find its readers and the wonderful critical attention it deserves.”
“Wow, this is intense stuff. Bleak – and convincing. I’ve driven through hard-luck towns where I swear I’ve seen Abigail or a Willie. In the end, though, I missed a little leavening of the misery; it was just too much for me, and I’ve even got an appetite for this kind of tough territory. I think I’d have a hard time getting readers on board for it.”
“Thanks for sending this. Sherrill’s writing is fantastic and his sinister characters and narrative are hard to shake. But even though you gave me fair warning, I found this novel relentlessly macabre and the “redeeming grace” you describe wasn’t enough –for me– to balance the darkness of the rest of the book. I worry that it requires a specific sensibility and it might be an uphill battle to tap into just the right market. I will regretfully pass, but thanks again for giving me a try with it.”
“Thank you for sending me Steve’s latest, which as his first NYC champion (excepting you, of course) I am always interested in seeing. And Steve’s signature gifts are on display here, particularly his fine-tuned rendering of characters both sinned against and sinning. But as good as he remains, I’m afraid I just don’t see a way to publish this novel – neither happy nor easy, as you note – in this market and especially given the disappointing sales of his previous two books. And so I will have to pass, though with continued admiration for Steve’s talent.”
“I read this quickly, spurred by your terrific, enthusiastic letter, and I wish I weren’t now disappointing you—maybe too quickly. I’m usually a fool for “dark,” as with Daniel Woodrell, but Sherrill has dared with this book to ban any mote of light, making me realize where my subjective limits lie. I can’t bear witnessing what Willie has to bear! Of course Sherrill is able to bring all three of his main characters to vivid, singular life. And, yes, the rays of light are there in his distinctive prose. I wish you and this fine writer all good fortune with Joy, PA.”
“ I’m so sorry for the delay in responding to you on Steve’s latest!! … Not to anyone’s surprise, it looks like Steve has written another truly sui generis novel!! The very disturbed Abigail Augenbaugh is a sensationally captivating character– she had a Piper Laurie-in-Carrie feel to her that I loved. Steve shines when it comes to revealing the full, flawed humanity within his compellingly grotesque characters, and, beyond that, he is a fantastic stylist, one whose energy and voice keep one turning the pages with increasing awe even as the odder aspects of the story begin to work that (sometimes) oppositional momentum. But, damnit, I just can’t see a way to publish this here at ****. His track is one factor, of course (and I say that with great regret as someone partially responsible for that track) but somehow I was never sufficiently caught up in the narrative momentum here, the way I was so easily with VISITS FROM THE DROWNED GIRL. In the end, I have to admit that the converging narratives and vacillating perspectives caused me to lose steam, despite the obvious talent evidenced on every page. Admire him as I do, I just didn’t have the genuine passion or vision for JOY, PA that it obviously needs to succeed and I’m sadly going to pass. Please wish Steve my very best, and I wish you both great success with JOY elsewhere.”
“Thanks for letting us consider Steve Sherrill’s JOY, PA.
It’s a gritty, heartbreaking, and stylistically restless book, and there’s an intensity here communicated via the spare prose and carefully controlled voice that is compelling. So there’s a lot here to like. Sherrill’s clearly an ambitious and accomplished author.
That said, the short sections and continual switching between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person didn’t completely gel for us. These are desperate characters in trying circumstances, but it did feel that at times the refusal to settle on a particular narrative stance kept me from complete immersion in the story. So I’m sorry to say that we’ve decided to pass.”
“I was excited to receive Steven Sherrill’s new novel—he’s one of those writers I’ve always intended to read, but never have—I remember very well the phenomenon that was MINATOUR and was thrilled to dive into JOY, PA. The writing is superb–taut, precise, and entrancing. The three Augenbaughs are painfully and convincingly rendered, and I became a part of their struggles the moment I started reading. The problem is, once I put it down, I had a hard time picking it back up—there’s something so forbidding and oppressive about it, and the fever pitch of their respective crises just drained me. And so, as much as I admire this, I just didn’t LOVE it—sorry! I hope you find a braver soul than I who will focus on the novel’s many merits on not its difficulties.”