Every novel begins somewhere, and for CJ Hauser, The From-Aways began with a pair of lobsters. Lavender and Leopold, to be exact—two crustaceans that would not only become Hauser’s childhood introduction to the world of lobster boils, but would also serve as the impetus for the novel’s first scene in which Leah, the city-bred journalist, decides she would rather do anything but eat the named lobsters crawling around in her bathtub. It’s a funny and heartbreaking moment, and it sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which follows Leah and Quinn, a fellow reporter, as they encounter escalating class warfare in their adoptive home of Menamon, Maine.
Dubbed “a novel of Maine,” The From-Aways borrows its title from Hauser’s interest in whether you can lay claim to a place where you weren’t born, and more directly, to the New England slang attributed to outsiders. Leah and Quinn—the former, a New Yorker who moves with her husband back to his hometown; the latter, a Connecticut transplant in search of her estranged musician father—always find themselves on the outskirts, no matter how embedded they are in the local population.
“With ‘from-aways,’ you can move to town five minutes after you’re born, over the state line, and you’re still a from-away for your whole life,” Hauser explains. “And so it’s this matter of authenticity that I think is so interesting to struggle with: Do I belong here? Do I not belong here? Who’s more authentic than whom?”
Questions of belonging and home drive the novel forward, with Leah’s growing uncertainty and Quinn’s headstrong ways bouncing off one another. The From-Aways is told from both women’s perspectives—“I like the idea that they could both shed light on each other, back and forth, through the dual narration,” Hauser says—and is an investigation of female friendships against a backdrop of the unsettling reality of the marine real estate narrative and its side effects of gentrification and displacement. As journalists, Leah and Quinn are meant to be objective observers. But how, Hauser asks, do you remain objective when everyone you know is struggling to make ends meet, and are actively being pushed out of their community?
“I worry about geography a lot,” Hauser says. “It used to be, in my town, everyone that grew up there would just wind up living there or near to there. My parents grew up one town over from where I grew up. And I love that in town, there are these family names that you just see over and over and over again. I worry there’s something lost when you don’t have a family that lives in the same place generation after generation.”
Hauser, who is the recipient of McSweeney’s 2010 Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award and the 2012 Jaimy Gordon Prize for Fiction, and is now earning a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University, was raised in Redding, Connecticut, where she and her friends would spend weekends sitting around a campfire, trading stories and drinking beer. “Something that was really important to me with the book is we have all these ideals and it is magical,” Hauser notes of her upbringing. But, she adds, the culture allows for everyone to know everyone else’s business, and death is also a large and natural part of the everyday.
With The From-Aways, Hauser mainly wanted to capture this place she knew growing up. She began the book in 2008, and notes, “When I moved to New York, I started writing about New England because I missed it. I think a lot of the reason why I wrote this book is this homesickness that I felt.”
“I feel like there’s something about people from back home and New England,” Hauser adds. “Just the sense of, I can do this on my own, I’ve got this under control, I’m a strong person and I will handle this. And I love that. It’s very stubborn. Most of the time you want to shake people and say, ‘But I want to help you with things!’ I find it extremely endearing.”