Title: Small Wonders
Author Name & Publisher: Courtney Lux (Interlude Press)
Publication Date & Length: September 22, 2015 – 282 pgs
A pickpocket who finds value in things others do not want, Trip Morgan meets and becomes involved with Nate Mackey, a down-and-out former Wall Street professional who looks eerily like a child in a photograph Trip found years before.
It’s part of a collection of stolen trinkets he’s collected since he arrived in New York. He keeps it all close and works out a life he could have if he could ever let someone keep him long enough for him to build up a treasure trove of small wonders all his own.
In confronting their own demons and finding value in each other, Trip and Nate may find that their relationship is a wonder of its own.
What a phenomenally well-written piece of literature. This is less a traditional romance and more a carefully constructed contemporary slice of life story.
I’m undecided how I feel about the story. On the one hand, it’s skillfully written and thought-provoking. On the other hand, it’s a tough read, very gritty. I liked it in the way one might like the assigned reading in a literature course—I appreciate it more as fine art than as something I felt emotionally connected to. That’s not a bad thing. This book can and should be read communally by people interested in examining the themes.
At a more personal level, it didn’t stir a lot of feelings in me. I had trouble relating to Trip and Nate, and I didn’t perceive their relationship as healthy. I’m not entirely sure what the lesson is we should learn from them. They were both incredibly frustrating people, and they fell squarely into the trope of men who can’t process or talk about their real feelings. By the end they’d grown, but I still couldn’t figure out what the foundation for their relationship was.
At the same time, I loved the secondary characters. Each one could have had a novel of their own. Scarlett was my favorite; I wanted to know so much more about her. Despite his problems, I actually liked Devon. He was a surprisingly sympathetic character. Because this was told in Trip’s perspective, we saw his view of them, and one significant thing I noted was his open-mindedness regarding his roommates.
On a side note, I skipped the discussion questions at the end. I prefer not to be guided as to how I should think about or process a book, and I found that mildly irritating.
This book made me work hard to read it, and I enjoyed the challenge. It will take me time to process my thoughts, which is a very good thing. I certainly hope to see more of Ms. Lux’s work in the future, as she is a highly gifted writer.
Today, he has encountered no southerners and only a few tourists from elsewhere, and he’d be okay with that if it weren’t for the rain. It comes fast. One minute it’s sunny and lovely and easy pickings, and the next the sky’s gone black and people are running from the park with street-vendor umbrellas popping open over their heads or shopping bags held up as makeshift shields. Trip switches to catchy pop numbers and more recent music, but it’s no use.
Some days this works. People take pity on a not-quite-twenty-something singing in the rain. Older women especially seem to take in the auburn hair stuck to his forehead and his relatively petite stature and read hungry young desperation in him. They offer him sympathetic smiles and a few soggy dollars.
Other times, playing in the rain has the opposite of his intended effect—strange boy with strange eyes playing his guitar as if he doesn’t know the rain is there. Those people see the darkness in him: a boy with a chip on his shoulder that makes them nervous. Those people give him wary looks and a wide berth. Trip’s not sure he blames them.
He’s a little put out and a lot cold, so he sells his umbrella for a few dollars before shouldering his guitar and closing the lid on his coffee can to set to work at his other favorite occupation.
He’d been a decent pickpocket in his younger years, but now, after a lot of practice, he’s a better thief and a good runner when he needs to be. Not that he steals anything of particular worth. He finds value in treasures scrounged from the bottoms of pockets.
Loose change, hair binders, halves of Vicodin, broken cigarettes, crumpled matchbooks. All of it has a purpose, a certain sense of importance. He envies women and their big purses. They’ve got whole bags of riches waiting to be exhumed. Though, more likely than not, those little trinkets will remain forgotten and neglected in the bottoms of Marc Jacobs clutches and Target sale hobo bags.
Other people don’t see it—the value in these things. Maybe that’s why he steals from them. Nothing they’d miss: a worn dollar here, a business card there. He keeps it all close and works out a life he could have if he could ever let someone keep him long enough for him to build up a treasure trove of small wonders all his own.
For now, he will live with worn shopping lists, broken crayons and ticket stubs he lifts off of others. He keeps them in a beaten-up bag that is more duct tape than canvas and lets them build up stardust. Then, in those lonely hours of the night, he scatters them across the floor and works them into constellations to which he assigns stories. Some he writes down; others, he forgets before the next day. It’s not a financially savvy task, but it’s his favorite, and it passes the time as well as anything else.
1) Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
I actually don’t have one set writing place. I write whenever and wherever I’m inspired or have the time to do so. Large pieces of Small Wonders were written waiting for planes, on the deck of my family’s cabin, on the subway and in coffee shops. Ideally, I like to have a comfortable chair and some sort of table/desk space where I can put my laptop. I also need to be able to listen to music. I don’t think I wrote more than a sentence or two of the book without music playing in the background.
2) Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
I think you can always find small pieces of yourself in your characters, though sometimes you have to squint a little to see it. Within the context of Small Wonders, though, I relate the most to Nate Mackey. We’re both very focused, plan-driven people, and I think we work so hard to maintain a certain amount of control in our lives that we’re a little flummoxed when our plans don’t work out. I also think plans not working out can be a very good thing for both of us.
3) If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
I’m actually not a full time author now. I’m finishing a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at NYU, and I work as a Speech Language Pathologist. I love the puzzle of working through communicative disorders, and I especially love working with people to help them connect to others in a way that is comfortable and effective for them. It’s really fascinating and rewarding. I’m glad I get to work at two jobs I really enjoy.
4) Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
One of my biggest weak spots when I write is that when I can’t figure out that one word or little set of lines I need for a scene, I can never move on and it wastes such an incredible amount of time. While writing Small Wonders, I finally started just writing the word “caterpillar” every time I got stuck or I’d highlight the line that didn’t feel right and move on. It saved hours and hours of work, and many times when I finally went back to fill in the blank or fix something, it only took a couple seconds to fix. I wish I’d figured out that technique way earlier on.
5) Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
I think there’s always room for more improvements, whether it be exploring a subject more, cutting out some wordiness or just cleaning something up. That being said, I’m proud of Small Wonders, and the editing it went through put it in a place that I’m really, really happy with.
6) How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
Small, random things inspire me. Sometimes it’s pulling out a random object from the bottom of my purse, someone I see out in the city or something as small as a smell or feeling that I suddenly want to explore. I have a hard time sitting down and forcing ideas to happen, they just have to surprise me.
7) What’s next for you as a writer?
I can’t say a whole lot about it at this point, but I just got started on a new project. It takes me a long time for me to get to know my characters well enough and to a point that I feel prepared to write them in a larger story, but I’m working my way through that and getting into the story which is really exciting.
8) Where do you live? Do you think this influences how or what you write?
I live in New York City and that most definitely influenced Small Wonders since it’s set here. New York is such an incredible, vibrant place, that being a part of it while writing a book set in it was really essential to the energy of the novel and New York feeling very present within the context of the story rather than just a backdrop for the story to take place against.
9) What is your favorite genre outside of the one you write in? Why?
I guess I sort of write within it, but I really do love coming of age novels. I’ve always been a believer in characters having stories rather than stories having characters, and I think that genre really plays into that. I love feeling like I’m immersed in a character’s journey and experiencing both the growing pains and triumphs with them.
10) Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc?
Two words: Diet Coke. If aspartame poisoning turns out to be a real thing, I will be the first one to get it. I’m an absolute addict.
Courtney Lux is a Minnesotan-turned-New Yorker whose love for the city is rivaled only by her love for wide, open spaces. She is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison and a soon-to-be graduate of New York University. When not playing writer, Courtney is an avid reader, constant dreamer, and lover of dogs, wine and being barefoot. Small Wonders is her first novel, and is the recipient of a Publishers Weekly starred review.