Purdue News

February 11, 2005

Purdue professor's novel maps broken family ties to car industry

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University associate professor and author Porter Shreve's latest novel looks at how increased mobility drives apart a typical American family.

Porter Shreve
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"Drives Like a Dream," to be released March 4 by Houghton Mifflin ($23), is Shreve's second novel. "The Obituary Writer," which was published in 2000 and named a New York Times Notable Book, was partly inspired by his work on the night city desk at the Washington Post.

His new novel explores how Lydia Modine, a 61-year-old mother living near the old heart of the car industry in Detroit, handles the separation from her adult children.

"Families are scattered everywhere in this country, and this separation really began with the ease of travel made possible by the automobile industry," says Shreve who joined the English department in 2004. "The car helped put an end to the quaint notion of the nuclear family. Even in my own family, my three siblings, my parents and I have lived for years all over the map. We're spread out like spokes to the wheel, far from home. My book dramatizes the emotional costs of this particular American condition."

As Modine sets out redefining her life without her children, she also is writing a book of social history about the 1950s "dream machines" and the American car companies' policy of planned obsolescence – "out with the old model, in with the new." While working on her book, she begins researching her father, who was a well-known General Motors car designer. Modine and her family are fictional, but Shreve has his characters interacting with some automotive legends, such as Preston Tucker, Harley Earl and Alfred Sloan, all former leaders of the car industry.

The book focuses on the tension between Modine and her middle child, Jessica, who lives in Oregon.

"Jessica has a lot of guilt about leaving her mother, and Lydia perpetuates that guilt," Shreve says. "I did not plan to write about two women. It just happened. I grew up in a household full of women. My mother is the central figure in my family, just as Lydia is in hers. Though Lydia is not my mother, both women have gone through the painful transition of watching their grown children move far away."

Detroit also watched the automotive industry move away during the second half of the 20th century, and this is one of the strong themes in "Drives Like a Dream." Shreve says he never had a great interest in cars, but while living in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the late 1990s, he saw firsthand how the automotive industry's departure influenced Detroit residents.

Shreve's next book is about a family that struggles financially until one day, seemingly out of the blue, they inherit a large house in Washington, D.C. The story explains the history behind the inheritance and how the family turns the house into a progressive alternative school.

Shreve also is co-editor of six anthologies on topics including the American short story, justice and education. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Witness, Northwest Review, Salon, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times. He joined the Purdue English Department last fall and will serve as director of the master of fine arts creative writing program beginning this fall. He also was on faculty at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Porter Shreve, (765) 494-3740, pshreve@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

 

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in advance copies of the book can contact Megan Wilson at Houghton Mifflin, (617) 351-3377, megan_Wilson@hmco.com. Shreve will talk about his book at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Purdue's Hicks Undergraduate Library's Bookstall. Shreve also will read from and discuss his book at 7 p.m. March 6 at Big Hat Books, 922 E. Westfield Blvd., Indianapolis, and at 7 p.m. March 29 at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore at the Eck Center, in Notre Dame. His tour schedule so far includes visits to Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The schedule is available online.

Related Web site:
Creative Writing in the Department of English

 

PHOTO CAPTION:
Purdue University associate professor and author Porter Shreve's latest novel, "Drives Like a Dream," will be released March 4 by Houghton Mifflin ($23). Shreve, a member of the English department, explores how increased mobility drives apart a typical American family. This is Shreve's second novel. "The Obituary Writer," which was published in 2000 and named a New York Times Notable Book, was partly inspired by his work on the night city desk at the Washington Post. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at http://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/+2005/shreve-drive.jpg

 

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