Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. Her new novel, Ithaca, releases October 1, 2014.
Today I’m chatting with Daisy Turner, the main character of Ithaca.
Janet: Welcome, Daisy, and thanks for taking time to join us. First, let me offer my sympathy for your loss. Would you care to tell us a little about yourself, and about Arthur, too? You were married a long time, and you’re bound to have shaped each other along the way.
Daisy: Thank you, Janet. I appreciate your sympathy. My husband, who died in May, was a geology professor at Cornell University. I was his right-hand man. Right-hand woman, I should say. I typed his papers for him and, as much as it isn’t fashionable to say this, I was very happy being Arthur’s wife and Nick’s mother, and running our household.
Janet: What do you miss most about him?
Daisy: Oh goodness, my answer to that would probably be different every day. What surprised me was that it’s the little things more than the big things, the things only I would know about him.
Janet: Shh… is there anything that’s easier about living alone again?
Daisy: This is actually the first time I’ve ever lived alone. I was very young when I married. I’m not sure easier is the word I would use, generally. Arthur had a heart condition and we had to adopt a low-sodium diet. It is nice to be able to season my food again.
Janet: Your son is working overseas, correct? Do you think you might visit him at some point?
Daisy: My son works in Singapore. We visited him a couple of years ago. I always keep a small rock in my pocket, a rock I picked up on a beach in Singapore. It helps me feel that he isn’t so far away. I imagine I will visit him again at some time, but he’s been good about coming home too.
Janet: I love that idea of the pocket-rock for connection! So much of your life revolved around Arthur’s schedule. I see you’ve kept the weekly Wednesday soup nights. How did those start? And do you find comfort in keeping up the tradition?
Daisy: I don’t think the people who come to Wednesday nights would let me stop even if I wanted to! But I don’t want to stop. It’s been part of my life almost since we moved to Ithaca. Initially it was just Arthur’s grad students who came to dinner, and soup was the easiest thing to make—because it stretches to accommodate an extra person or two. After a few years, it became a standing date.
Janet: Do you create your own recipes? And are you a local food cook, or does that matter to you?
Daisy: I cook for a large crowd so I have to adapt but I usually start with a recipe. Over time, it becomes my own. We have a vibrant farmer’s market in Ithaca and that’s where I get most of the food for my soups. All the vendors there come from a small radius around the town, so I suppose yes, I do cook local foods.
Janet: I confess I hadn’t heard of Ithaca before. It sounds like a charming university town, and I’d love to see the waterfalls. Please tell us about your home. What do you like best about where you live?
Daisy: I’m from the South originally but Ithaca has been my home since the early ’70s. I think I’d have to say—and I’ve never really thought about this before exactly—that there are two things I like most about Ithaca, and they aren’t that different from each other. One is the waterfalls and the other is the students. In both cases, what I love is the liveliness, the sense of movement. We have dozens of waterfalls in our area and I’m fond of all of them. You really should visit, and this time of year is a beautiful one with all the leaves in color. We aren’t a big city but Ithaca is home to Cornell, where my husband taught, and Ithaca College. Having the students around brings a freshness to our town; I always look forward to the end of summer when the students come back.
Janet: One of your friends keeps bees. Are you learning a few things about helping with them?
Daisy: I used to think bees were just a menace—other than the honey. Our friend Henry invited me to help him harvest honey recently, and it was fascinating to watch the process. I think we could learn a lot from bees. I’ll tell you one thing: bees eat honey but they don’t live long enough to eat the honey made from the nectar they collect. They have to depend on those who came before them, and they leave food for those who come behind them,
Janet: There’s a life lesson for humans in the bees’ pattern, I think! And there’s a new word in your vocabulary these days: fracking. I’m hearing more about that here in Nova Scotia, too. Do you think you’ll be able to figure out what it’s all about? It’s hard to know whose information to trust.
Daisy: I decided to take a course at the university to understand more about fracking. And yes, there are a wide variety of opinions on fracking—all of them quite strong too. There’s a lot of excitement about being able to retrieve little pockets of gas from the shale, but I do worry that they are acting first and thinking afterward. That’s not the way to mess with things, if you ask me.
Janet: Your story isn’t particularly about faith, but you’ve recently returned to church. You’re even a Sunday School teacher now. Is there anything you’d like to share about what brought you back, or what difference faith makes in your life?
Daisy: I did come back to church. My son had moved to Singapore not long before the tsunami hit in south-east Asia. Singapore was not directly affected and my son was safe, but it unsettled me and it made me aware of how small I was and I needed something, Someone, who was bigger than a tsunami. I do teach Sunday School, and Father Jim comes to Wednesday nights, and I have a good friend who also came back to church with me. I feel like there’s solid rock under my feet now.
Janet: I find comfort in knowing there’s Someone bigger than me, too. Coffee or tea? And what’s your favourite season?
Daisy: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. Goodness, my favorite season… how can I choose? I don’t think I can pick one.
Janet: If you could do anything at all—travel, try something new, whatever—what might it be?
Daisy: I feel that that is exactly the question I am asking of myself these days. I don’t know the answer. There’s a lot that is new in my life, my new life without Arthur. I’ve had a nice, settled life until the last few months—and now I need to figure out what comes next.
Janet: Susan Fish is a fine person to write your story. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?
Daisy: She keeps asking me for my soup recipes. I was a bit surprised when she wanted to tell my story but she says she’s interested in grief and food and the power of community and sharing food, and I suppose my story really is about all these things, isn’t it? I would like to thank her for writing my story.
Janet: Daisy, I’m glad you joined us today, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better as I read your story. I trust there are good surprises in store for you.
For 39 years, Daisy Turner has been a professor’s wife, typing his notes and helping out. The centerpiece of her life is a weekly community dinner she hosts—one that always features soup. When her husband drops dead, Daisy has nothing to hold onto except, perhaps, the soup. Then, suddenly, Daisy finds herself entangled with a man whose wife is disabled, mothering a young activist-farmer, and swept into the controversy about fracking that has begun to concern their small Ivy League town.
Ithaca explores what happens when a quiet, almost sedimentary life meets the high-pressure forces of a small town. How do you rebuild after life as you know it is suddenly turned upside down—or is fracked?
Want to win a copy of Ithaca on Goodreads? Enter the giveaway before October 1, 2014.
Ithaca can be pre-ordered on Amazon or through your local bookstore. Book club members, this would be a great story for you to read together.
Susan Fish is a writer and editor (storywell.ca) in Waterloo, ON Canada. She loves to cook, walk her dog, and spend time with her husband and three kids. You can find Susan at her blog, Susan Fish Writes, and at Storywell.