�€?Surviving Mae West,�€? the much anticipated debut novel by Charles Town resident Priscilla A. Rodd, is now available from Vandalia Press and at bookstores across the country.
Tess, the protagonist/narrator of �€?Surviving Mae West,�€? is a young West Virginia woman, haunted by the trauma of a brutal rape. The novel opens on the day that Tess begins working as a prostitute in a New York City brothel, although her family believes she’s an ordinary waitress in a Mexican restaurant.
Rodd’s novel utilizes a journal format, a structure that allows Tess to emerge with utter candor and realism as readers become privy to her secrets. Readers sink into Tess’s complex inner world where intimacy is both dreaded and desired.
Denise Giardina, acclaimed West Virginia author of �€?Storming Heaven�€? and �€?The Unquiet Earth,�€? says of Tess: �€?[She] can be exasperating, like watching a friend engage in self-destructive behavior. Yet we still care about her.�€?
�€?Surviving Mae West�€? is an uncensored story of survival and renewal, told by a narrator as unabashed as John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (�€?Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure�€?), as flawed and plucky as Wally Lamb’s Dolores Price (�€?She’s Come Undone�€?), and as resilient as Dorothy Allison’s Bone (�€?Bastard Out of Carolina�€?). Humor and bravery are key points in the book’s final message, which is one of healing found in the cathartic power of words and the succor only family can provide.
Rodd is a West Virginia native, but also lived as an adult in New York City and New Orleans . She is adept at portraying both city life and Appalachia . Beyond the bright lights and fast lanes of New York, Tess’s mountain home beckons her to return, to confront her difficult past, resolve her strained family relationships, and ultimately, to make her own peace.
Of �€?Surviving Mae West,�€? Pulitzer Prizewinning author Annie Dillard said, �€?Rodd’s spare but vivid prose echoes the beauty of the landscapes she writes about. She is a complex new voice rising out of Appalachia .�€?
Dr. Teresa Van Hoy, chair of the women’s studies program at the University of HoustonClear Lake , said of the book:
�€?Rodd challenges us to confront the complexities of women working in the sex trade. If we cast sex workers solely in the role of victimexploited, abused, passive, vulnerablewe miss much. By moving us closer, Rodd helps move us beyond pity, condemnation and outrage,�€? Van Hoy said. �€?Really, the book is for anyone who seeks to understand the raw wounds festering at the intersection of gender, sex and power.�€?
Advance-copy readers have compared Rodd to the young Jane Anne Phillips, another West Virginia native, who burst on the literary scene in 1979 at the age of 26 with the dark and lyrical �€?Black Tickets.�€? Others recall Breece D’J Pancake, Tim O’Brien and Denis Johnson, and tell us they can’t put �€?Surviving Mae West�€? down.
As is the case with all �€?risk-taking�€? books, Vandalia Press anticipates some controversy over Surviving Mae West because of its overt sexual content and language. �€?We feel certain, though,�€? said Dr. Patrick Conner, Vandalia Press director, �€?that the uncompromising integrity and literary merit of this work justify every word in it and that it is an important contribution to literary fiction in its ability to expand and enhance our understanding of humanity. Otherwise, we would not have selected it for publication.�€?
Another Vandalia Press title, �€?Crum,�€? by Lee Maynard was also controversial; however, it has remained Vandalia Press’s best-selling title since its publication five years ago.
The daughter of Quaker activists Judy and Tom Rodd of Charleston , Priscilla A. Rodd was home schooled and grew up without running water or electricity until she was 11. She earned a master’s of fine arts degree in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh, and teaches creative writing in Charles Town where she lives with her husband and two young sons.
Vandalia Press is the literary imprint of West Virginia University Press, specializing in contemporary poetry, novels and essays. Begun in 2001, Vandalia Press publishes an average of two literary titles each year by regional writers or by other authors whose work has a strong connection to Appalachia or West Virginia . Among Vandalia’s authors are Richard Currey, Valerie Nieman and West Virginia Poet Laureate Irene McKinney.
Next up from Vandalia will be �€?Going,�€? a novel by WVU English and creative writing professor Kevin Oderman, which will be released in August.
�€?Surviving Mae West�€? can be ordered directly from WVU Press by calling toll-free 866-988-7737 or online at www.wvupress.com . Orders may also be placed through area bookstores. Discounts are available for booksellers. Contact Sherry McGraw, 304-293-8400, ext. 4507 for more information.