Novelist Marie-Helene Bertino talks ‘Beautyland’ on a special 2024 preview episode.
On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, Marie-Helene Bertino takes us behind the scenes of Beautyland (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jan. 16), “acoming-of-age story in which the main character is, literally, out of this world” (Kirkus).
Bertino is the author of the novels Parakeetand 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, and the story collection Safe as Houses. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at Yale University and lives in New York state.
Here’s a bit more from our starred review of Beautyland:
“InNortheast Philadelphia, in the Earth year 1977, Adina Giorno is born to a woman destined to be a single mother. The baby is too small, and her mother, observing her under the hospital phototherapy lamp, thinks she looks ‘other than human. Plant or marine life, maybe. An orchid or otter. A shrimp.’ One reason for this might be the lamp’s unearthly blue-green light, or the fact that the baby is early and the mother traumatized by her difficult birth. Another might be the fact that Adina is actually otherworldly, an alien life form from a planet 300,000 light-years away, sent to infiltrate human society and ‘take notes.’ This Adina does assiduously all throughout her childhood and adolescence in 1980s and ’90s Philadelphia, where she lives with her Earth mother.…The notes themselves…are sent via a fax machine Adina’s Earth mother scavenges from the trash and sets up in her bedroom.…As Adina grows and her circle of influence widens…[she] becomes more and more aware of how different she feels from her Earthling friends.…A compelling, touching story that weds Bertino’s masterful eye for the poignant detail of the everyday with her equally virtuosic flair as a teller of the tallest kinds of tales—so tall, in this case, they are interplanetary.”
Bertino and I discuss her last appearance on the podcast, in 2021, in celebration of the paperback publication of Parakeet. We begin our conversation about Beautyland with the question, “What’s your relationship to this novel at this point in time?” We talk about writing fiction in the pandemic; whether she was lonely while writing Beautyland; whether loneliness holds a negative connotation for her; a New York Times article about reading parties; and reading in public. Additional topics include how protagonist Adina is a journalist whose beat is humanity; what Bertino considers to be her beat; embarrassing adolescent journals; types of people; creative verbs; the work of Saul Bellow, and how terrible and beautiful it is to be alive.
Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share some of the most eagerly anticipated titles—and trends—of the new year.
The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho, illus. by Kate Milner (Candlewick)
Ant Story by Jay Hosler (HarperAlley)
Waiting for the Monsoon by Rod Nordland (Mariner Books)
Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman (Norton)
THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:
What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me by Donna Gordon
Chasing Shadows: Genesis by Zachariah Jones
Sister by Leia M. Johnson, illus. by S.J. Winkler
Anna’s Promise by D.G. Schulman
Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.