Big houses, wide streets, fresh paint and quiet serenity. In abundance.
Linda Joffe Hull sees the “or not.”
The Big Bang (Tyrus Books), her first novel, starts with the cracks and mold. The foundations, quite literally, are shifting. The Big Bang is about the suburbs the priorities of the people who choose to live there. This is the world of Tom Perotta and John Updike fed beautifully through the prose grinder with “Weeds” and “American Beauty.” Add one truly desperate housewife. Throw in a band of teenagers with a budding talent for witchcraft. Set to simmer (but not so gently).
Full review below. Linda launches the book at The Tattered Cover (in Lower Downtown Denver) on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
First, Linda—who will also launch a mystery series through Midnight Ink in 2013—was kind enough to answer a few questions about The Big Bang.
Question: What’s the inspiration for The Big Bang? Was there a particular moment or something you read? Someone you know who inspired Hope Jordan?
Linda Joffe Hull: My husband and I moved to Colorado and fell in love with a house in Central Denver. When we were in the process of closing, my brother-in-law, who lives in a nice but homogenous neighborhood south of town, called my in-laws and told them they had to talk us out of living in the city because it was dangerous. While there are certain dangers associated with urban living, his concern made me wonder about the less obvious but possibly more insidious dangers of living and raising children in an area where all the people and the houses look so very much the same. As for Hope Jordan, she’s an entirely made up character, but many of my friends have struggled with infertility.
Question: Are homeowner associations a sign of the apocalypse?
Linda Joffe Hull: To me, yes, because I hate being told what to do, so I can’t imagine living in a place where patrol cars monitor the type of decorative rocks you use in your yard and check to see if your boat has been parked an hour too long in your driveway. The system seems to work for other people though, so who am I to say?
Question: What’s the future of suburbia and places like Melody Mountain Ranch?
Linda Joffe Hull: I don’t claim to understand urban planning, but I do appreciate the allure of affordable housing (and ample closet space). I just wish homeowners cared more about pushing builders to differentiate the homes and neighborhoods more than they do. I’m encouraged when I see new developments popping up where they make an effort to vary the architecture, the prices, and the community itself.
Question: I note that you are doing your launch at the very urban LoDo location of The Tattered Cover: are you afraid of doing the launch in Highlands Ranch?
Linda Joffe Hull: Not at all. Actually, one of the local magazines incorrectly printed my launch at the Highlands Ranch store, so I’ve been trying to get a second signing arranged there. I do have friends that live in neighborhoods very much like the one I fictionalized in The Big Bang. Without fail, every one of them said the story—from the homeowner’s board nonsense to the goings-on amongst the residents—could easily have happened in their community. Each had stories to tell me of similar (or more outlandish) events that did.
Question: How did you do the research for the teenage witch sequences? Do you know any covens yourself?
Linda Joffe Hull: I’m not much for organized religion in general and witchcraft in particular, so, no, I’m not associated with any kind of coven. I did do a fair amount of research on coven practice and homeowner’s associations and used some parallels in the story. Mainly though, I figured a bunch of teen witches would take a lot of liberties, so I did the same when I created their little sect.
Question: You strike a very consistent satiric tone throughout the novel—are there any writers you studied in preparation to write this?
Linda Joffe Hull: I love satire and have read a fair amount from George Orwell to Tom Wolfe, but I can’t say I studied any specific author’s work. I like Tom Perotta’s take on the suburbs. I admire Nick Hornby, and lately have been just wowed by Gillian Flynn. I’ll read any author who tackles the absurdities inherent in the human condition. Jonathon Tropper is terrific and there’s no one who nails it quite like David Sedaris.
Question: The Big Bang – more fun to write than a straight up mystery?
Linda Joffe Hull: Fun is an interesting concept. For me having written is really fun, but the actual process of writing is hard work. I created a lot of characters, both male and female, in The Big Bang and got to write from their perspectives, which was very gratifying. The Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series is somewhat easier in that I get to stay in my main character’s head and the story is in first person, but I’m now focused a bit more heavily on the intricacies of plot. The fact is, I feel really lucky to be able to write and publish in different genres.
Hope Jordan wants a baby. “Wants” is putting it mildly. Craves. Yearns. Needs. You get the picture. When we meet her, she’s getting ready for a fertility day “coffee break.”
Neighbor Will Pierce-Cohn has a litany of concerns aimed at the developer of Melody Mountain Ranch and goes door to door in hopes of fomenting anger—and gathering signatures on his multi-faceted petitions.
Maryellen Griffin is desperate to shed a few pounds to get below her current “dismal” 102. She savors the peppermint flavor on her toothpaste.
Real estate agent Laney Estridge managed to sell a property on Winding Valley Circle by “downplaying the minor explosion that resulted in $30,000 of Meth lab cleanup costs.”
Frank Griffin has multiple goals—to become a spiritual leader in South Metro Denver and use his position on the homeowners’ association to meet all his needs, including repurposing land designated for a “mega playground” for a more “lofty” purpose, a church.
Frank’s daughter, Eva, is studying Covens Made Simple. Her head warlock is Tyler Pierce-Cohn and they quickly induct two fellow teens as “Dedicants” so they can reach their magic number in the group to make the coven official, 13.
This is all the first few pages of Linda Joffe Hull’s The Big Bang, a delicious skewering of suburban lives, politics, religion and modern, upper-middle-class white people problems. It’s “Weeds” meets John Updike’s “Couples” with the satire dial set to slow, steady braise. Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin would recognize these surroundings, down to the laced brownies, and so would Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham from “American Beauty,” right down the tumble of themes from sex and redemption and search for liberation.
The focus of The Big Bang is Hope Jordan and, well after the scenes are set, a mystery, of sorts. It’s not a murder mystery. It’s the opposite: who, exactly, is the father-giver of life? Who planted the seed? Who, in fact, got Hope knocked up? One big party and the aforementioned brownies play a big role in Hope not knowing precisely what happened or how, but three prime candidates must be examined.
The party scene is brilliant and gives rise to one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read as weight-watching Maryellen is doing the dishes and, higher than a kite, finds morsels to savor among the scraps on the plate, down to an unbroken Frito Scoop that is “practically begging for a plunge into some brown-edged, but otherwise palatable guacamole…”
While Hope tries to sort matters out in broad daylight, we watch as the neighborhood, quite literally, crumbles.
There’s mold. The foundations crack. The neighborhood comes apart at the seams. Pressure is building. Emotions and fears are impacted like a bad tooth.
The quality of these lives, The Big Bang suggests, is a product of the environment (and it’s not a pretty). The smiles are phony. All agendas are personal. Everything is superficial. But inside this world are real people and, even as she sends up their peculiarities and quirks, Hull crafts vivid and recognizable characters that are well within the boundaries of anything you’d see on reality TV, circa now.
In The Big Bang, it’s a short distance from a meddling coven to life-choking covenants.
It’s all a sinkhole waiting to happen and it’s all as real as the inane trill from the ice cream truck.