“Rivers are completely indifferent,” says Susan Straight (A Million Nightingales, 2006, etc.). She was thinking of her own home in Riverside, Calif., when she created the fictitious city of Rio Seco, which translates to “dry river” in Spanish. In the book, travel writer Fantine returns to Rio Seco where, five years earlier, her childhood friend Glorette had been found strangled to death in a shopping cart. It’s an event based on a real-life tragedy Straight found in her local newspaper. “[In the article, the girl’s] mother said, ‘She was a black teenager. No one’s going to care who killed her,’ ” says Straight. The author took special care in creating Glorette—the character resembles a woman Straight would see on the bus. “She was iridescently beautiful,” she says. “Her eyes were purple and her skin was like gold, and she had hair in a bun, and every man would always try to talk to her, but she would completely ignore them…One time this old song came on, and she turned to the bus driver and said, ‘The man I loved used to sing that song to me.’ That was the only thing I ever heard her say.”
Straight’s favorite books with strong regional settings (in no particular order):
Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find: A Collection of short stories about the South, mostly set near Atlanta.
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury: Yoknapatawpha County, Miss., Faulkner's fictional county based on Lafayette County/Oxford, Miss., and Cambridge, Mass.
Toni Morrison, Beloved: Rural area outside Cincinnati, Ohio, with flashbacks to a plantation in Kentucky and a prison in Alfred, Ga.
James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain: New York City's famed Harlem neighborhood.
Ross MacDonald: He wrote a series of books about a private detective named Lew Archer set in Southern California.
For a list of best fiction books of 2010, click here.
Take One Candle, Light a Room
Pantheon / October / 9780307379146 / $25.95
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010