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January 6, 2010

Robin Antalek: A Family Tale

Posted by webmaster
Today we talk with Robin Antalek about her debut novel, The Summer We Fell Apart --- what inspired the idea for the story about four siblings, discussion-worthy topics and themes and what she found most intriguing about telling a family tale. For readers who aren't familiar with The Summer We Fell Apart, how would you describe it to them?

Robin Antalek:
The Summer We Fell Apart is a story about four siblings that have been battered and bruised by a childhood of benign neglect, yet, they manage to overcome their collective experiences and learn to love each other, despite making some tragic and costly mistakes, in the way only family truly can.

RGG: What inspired the idea for the novel?

I wanted to write a big family novel, and at the heart I saw the very special relationship that developed between the youngest sibling, Amy, and her oldest brother, George. They cared for each other like no other, and that shielded them in a cocoon that buffered and somewhat protected them from their childhood. Originally, I had thought the book would be told from Amy's perspective, but as I continued to write I realized that each of her siblings wanted, no, demanded, a voice that they had never had as children. As they each told their story, the overlapping layers of experience, only then did I see the family come to life before me as I had originally intended. It was a pretty exciting thing --- none, certainly, that I had experienced in previous drafts.

RGG: The story follows four siblings over the course of 15 years. Do you expect that the topic of sibling relationships will generate some lively conversations among reading group members?

RA: Absolutely! The sibling relationship, whether you have one, many, or whether you are an only child who longed for a brother or sister, is atypical of ANY relationship you will ever have in your entire life. A sibling can be your truth; they can also be your nightmare, depending upon where you are in your life. But one thing is for sure: they are your living history --- knowing you more intimately than a husband/wife or even your parents...and if life goes as planned, they will be your longest living blood relative that remembers every single thing you ever did for and against them.

RGG: What are some of the other topics and themes book clubs could discuss?

RA: Abandonment and neglect are strong themes in the book. I think for some the fact that a mother does not exhibit the classic "mothering" instincts will be difficult and quite a topic for discussion. The search for love in all its many forms is another. There is also the idea of forgiveness, which ultimately leads back to all members of the Haas family, even their mother and father.

RGG: Author Jessica Anya Blau described your novel as "a thoroughly entertaining and often heart-breaking romp through the chaos and comforts of a large and extraordinary family." What did you find most intriguing about telling a family tale?

How the voices of the siblings took on a sort of Rashomon effect; their perceptions of events that occurred during childhood all differed, causing allegiances to shift within the family. It is only as they reach adulthood and must deal with the carnage of their lives that they realize they have all experienced the same thing, but differently, and I think that was a real revelation for them, and for me. I couldn't change the outcome even if I tried.