The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Trevor Talks Boston

Walt Steadman is a Harvard dropout who just survived a shooting in a Boston café.

He is one of the main characters in Douglas Trevor’s new novel, Girls I Know, from which he will read at 7 p.m. Friday at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

The book is based on a short story of the same title in Trevor’s The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space, which was published in 2005 and winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award.

“[Trevor’s] both a scholar and an artist,” said David Hamilton, the former editor of The Iowa Review and a colleague of the author. “He’s witty and charming and a very hard worker, and there’s also a melancholy air to him that underscores his essential seriousness.”

The original short story was intended as the first chapter of a novel. But now that the story has been expanded into a full book, changes have been made.

The most obvious change is the shift from first to third person and the addition of a character named Mercedes Bittles.

“[The book] is a controlled experience revolving around the three central characters,” Trevor said.

In addition to Walt, the main cast includes two others. Ginger, a well-off Harvard undergraduate, and Mercedes, an 11-year-old African-American girl whose parents were killed in the shooting that injured Walt.

“Walt was a difficult character to inhabit,” Trevor said. “Largely because, at the outset of Girls I Know, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

When writing for Mercedes, Trevor found that his own life losses gave him something to draw from and helped him relate to the character. Ginger was influenced by students whom Trevor had taught.

“The three characters are like three circles,” Trevor said. “With Walt in the middle. [He] shares similarities and differences with each of these characters.”

Michelle Toth, the founder/editor of SixOneSeven Books, said she was blown away by the tenderness and empathy that Trevor showed toward the character of Mercedes.

“[Trevor’s] ability to imagine and develop characters is astounding,” Toth said. “I think you cannot help but become attached to the characters.”

The Boston-based publisher was intrigued not only by the strong characters and story but the way Boston is portrayed in the book. The Kirkus Reviews went as far as calling the book “a love song sung to Boston.”

“Doug does an exceptional job of evoking a sense of place through his writing,” Toth said. “Boston and its neighborhoods are really characters in the book. He digs into some compelling themes, too, such as the nature of evil and complicated issues of race, class, and privilege. And he does so with cleverness and tremendous wit.”

One of the more curious things about the novel is that it does not fit well under any established genre.

“[It’s] sort of coming of age,” Trevor said. “It’s not a crime novel; it’s certainly not a romance novel. [Because of this], there weren’t any structures for me to use, which was really liberating and really scary.”

Revolving around Walt’s relationship with Ginger and Mercedes, the book is mainly about the way in which these characters communicate and relate to one another.  And regardless of their varied backgrounds, they are able to connect with one another.

“I want people to think about what the common grounds are for communicating with other people,” Trevor said. “And I want the reader to be reminded that suffering is inevitable in life, as well as unfathomable.”


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