The Austin Chronicle

#ACreads: 'The Hundred-Year House'

By Robert Faires, August 27, 2014, 1:48pm, Under the Covers

It isn't every book club that has the author sit in to share secrets about the tome being discussed, but the Austin Chronicle Book Club isn't every book club. The online biblio-forum lets anyone on Twitter join in, which is how Rebecca Makkai came to field questions about her new novel The Hundred-Year House on Monday.

Makkai was invited to take part by Chron columnist Amy "The Good Eye" Gentry, who had suggested The Hundred-Year House as #ACreads' August pick. Makkai agreed to drop by for the final 15 minutes of the hour-long chat to interact with those present, but promised not to eavesdrop on the first 45 minutes, so readers could say whatever they truly felt about the novel.

Turns out everyone felt really good about it. Readers enjoyed the book's reverse chronology – its four sections jump backward from 1999 to 1955 to 1929 to 1900 – though different people loved different eras the best. They had fun teasing out which of the different artists were real and which fictional. And they praised the twists and reveals that came with the story's backward progress. "It becomes much richer as the timeline goes back," said Chronicle Managing Editor Kimberley Jones. Gentry said that she "loved how each section changed everything that came before it," and Laura Watkins Baker agreed: "Totally, I had many AHA! moments where I had to go back & re-read an earlier section to remember." @SparkerPants added: "It makes me wonder how much I don’t know about my own family, and never will."

When Makkai signed on, she jokingly greeted the group with: "Hi I'm here! Stop saying anything mean! And ask me your questions…" Baker wanted to know how the book "started out as a story about male eating disorders." Makkai explained that she'd initially written a short story involving the carriage house and academic sabotage and that there was a character in it named Steve, who was anorexic. His character eventually became the character named Case in the novel. "It turned out that I was way more interested in the house than the anorexia," she tweeted. "And it was much more fun to abuse Case than watch Steve starve." After Makkai revealed that she took Case's name from a library case ("How sad is that?"), Baker observed: "It suited the character really, really well. I wanted to punch him even when he was hurting." To which Makkai replied: "Yeah, writing him was basically punching him. I let out all my sadism!" Sarah Wolf wanted to know if any of the characters had been based on people that Makkai knew. "No," she said, "but Hidalgo the dog was based on my [high school] boyfriend's mother's dog, Hugo. Terrifying poodle." When Alex Maegdlin asked Makkai if she'd been inspired by any other stories that were told "out of order" in time, she replied: "TC Boyle's The Women, [Kingsley] Amis' Time's Arrow, the backwards episode of Seinfeld (no joke)." As the hour wound down, Gentry asked what she would be writing about next, and Makkai revealed: "1980s art scene in midst of AIDS epidemic, plus Paris 20s."

You can follow the whole conversation online at Twitter, #ACreads.

At the end of the hour, the selection for September was announced: The Maze Runner by James Dashner, a keynote author for the 2014 Texas Teen Book Festival, taking place Saturday, Oct. 18, at St. Edward's University. Grab a copy now, read it, and join us Monday, Sept. 22, 7pm, to talk about dystopian futures, YA trends, and running.

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