By Leslie Lindsay
Love, Loss, and oh gosh–an old house–a baby, and so much more in A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO.
I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of Pete Fromm before, but I am so glad I read A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO (Counterpoint Press, May 7 2019). Pete’s a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award and it’s evident why: his writing is perceptive, big-hearted, authentic, and razor-sharp. This book hits on so many of my favorite things: renovating an old house, a baby, and gorgeous writing. Taz and Marnie are crazy in love. They are living in a fixer-upper with lots of dreams and countless projects. But Taz, a handyman/carpenter/cabinetmaker is a bit too overwhelmed with outside jobs to really give his heart to his own house.
And then there’s a baby on the way–so he better get busy.
Without going into too many plot details, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO is about throwing out the blueprint for the perfect life and making sense of what’s presented. It’s about joy and heartache, trauma, and resiliency. I absolutely loved the metaphors of the house being like the body, the mind, always a work-in-progress. Lots of great references to homes, architecture, woodworking, and renovations. The prose absolutely sings. There’s love and loss and second chances; touches of nature, and a clear character arc. Plus, wit. Plenty of wit and subtle humor balancing out the tragedy. I loved the journey, the writing and I didn’t really want to leave these characters.
I am so honored to welcome Pete Fromm to the author interview series. Please join us.
Pete—it’s a pleasure! There’s plenty of well…haunting in this book, but not necessarily in a spooky way. I always think we are sort of haunted into writing. What was it that kept whispering to you to write A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO?
This book started after a friend asked me to read a short story in the now, sadly, defunct Glimmer Train (“The Hospital” by Silas Dent Zobal) which ends with a father leaving the hospital with his baby after his wife died in childbirth. It was just the right ending for the story, but I thought, man, what a huge story that’s stopping just short of beginning; A young, devastated new father, arriving home, with this stranger, the baby, all his plans in tatters, staring out at the rest of his life, no clue how to put it together, how to even take the first step. I just couldn’t get the idea of taking that first step out of my mind.
I love, love the fixer-upper touches, the house renovations, the woodworking…all of that. I see the home as a metaphor for our psyche, always a work-in-progress. Do you agree? And also, can you tell us a little of your experience as it pertains to house stuff? Are you handy?
Of course the renovations run parallel with all he has to rebuild in his life, all the decisions that have to be made, all the unexpected you find when you open up a wall; the little disasters, the cool surprises, and, as you caught, the deeper meaning in his psyche, learning every day, having to decide whether to tackle this job or that job or put it all off, or to charge into the next new thing.
As for my own experience, it started when a friend bought a derelict one room school house in Missoula, and I moved in to help with the rugged construction, and then the finer stuff, cabinets, tiling, lighting, self-teaching all the way, taking apart the dry-rotted ten feet tall old double-hung windows, seeing how they were put together, and then rebuilding them using the old fir joists from the false ceiling. Just a few months earlier, I’d quit working as a park ranger to take a shot at writing full time, and another friend was starting a renovation of a hundred year old house, also in Missoula, and I got an odd call from a contractor, telling me that he’d almost had his bid for this job accepted, but that the owner wouldn’t give him the job unless he hired me. I, at this time, had exactly zero experience as a carpenter. So, I called my friend, asked him, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘Well, I figured if you’re going to write for a living, it might be a good thing to learn a trade.’ Sound thinking. So, I worked as a carpenter for two years, with a tiny company, where we built houses from the ground up, from forming the foundations, to roofing and everything in between. It was a great crash course, and I still use everything I learned nearly every day as I now restore our own 100 year old Craftsman in Missoula.
Father’s Day is this weekend and I find this is really a story about fatherhood—neverminding the pregnant belly on the cover—can you shed a little light on how this book resonates with fathers, but also mothers? I’m a mother and all I wanted to do was crawl in those pages and save (sometimes, slap) Taz.
I think if you lump mothers and fathers under the same banner, as parents, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, just at the outset of that journey into parenthood, subtract one of them from the equation, any parent can imagine what that would be like, or, if not quite imagine, see it revealed in Taz’s journey into that world. Originally, I kept thinking of this as ‘Taz going into parenthood alone,’ but as soon as he took those first few steps, I realized he wasn’t alone. He had friends, a mother-in-law who shared the same loss, and these people did not vanish along with Marnie, they came together. I couldn’t imagine it any other way, so the story is, as is most of ours, a story of how we make it through life with the help, support, cajoling of others.
“A tender tale of loss and fatherhood, A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do is a beautiful story about what happens when your village comes to the rescue and gives you a second chance at happiness.”
I really enjoyed Taz’s secret swimming place. Can you describe that for us a bit—I love how water symbolizes birth, renewal, cleansing…maybe even amniotic fluid. Was this location purely fictional, or based on an actual place?
It’s definitely based on a real place, or, more accurately, real places, a kind of amalgam of a few favorite spots of mine. I’ve always loved swimming, and having been a swimmer in college, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours plying back and forth over that black line on the bottom of a pool, there’s little I love more than swimming outdoors, lakes, rivers, anywhere. Rivers here give the added attraction of current, swimming into it, seeing how far you can go before being pushed back, and then huge eddies where the river turns bends, or rushes around obstacles. There you can rest, circle around, be buoyed by the reversing current. So, a favorite swimming hole on the Selway River, and another on a fork of the Blackfoot River, merged into one, calmer than the Selway’s, but more isolated than the Blackfoot’s, a place Taz could find privacy, sanctuary, a place he could take Marnie and then Midge, find the aloneness that strengthens their connections.
I love, love where the title comes from. Can you talk a bit about that, please? And yes—it’s so very true and yet, we do it anyway.
The poet Joe Millar is a very good friend of mine, and his poem “American Wedding” struck me the first time I heard him read it, particularly this bit;
When the groom lifts the veil from her
delicate temples, I’m thinking someone
should warn them: a future of funerals, car
payments, taxes, kids throwing up in the night.
It’s a job you mostly won’t know how to do,
your naked arm deep in a jammed kitchen sink,
burnt rinds of eggplant, crazily adrift.
The whole idea of that careful and realistic consideration of what lives hold in store for all of us, but at the time when it’s all supposed to be romance and joy and setting forth as a couple, just sparked something in me, and maybe most of all that line, ‘a job you mostly won’t know how to do.’ It kept calling, almost as an instruction manual for the book itself, from the very first paragraphs of the first draft, and I used it as a working title, thinking no editor on the planet would let me keep it, that it’s too many words, the words all too short, impossible for anyone to remember, or roll off, but, over the years of working and reworking the story, it stuck, and I grew a little possessive. And, of course, the editor who bought the book, the wonderful Dan Smetanka at Counterpoint, in his first batch of editorial notes, wrote, ‘and let’s rethink the title.’ But in the end, after we’d worked over the mss [maunscript] for months, Dan agreed that it was in its own way, a perfect fit, so, against all odds, it stuck.
Pete, is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Like, what you’re writing next? Your summer plans…what you had for lunch…how you keep the saw sharp?
Summer plans? Sheesh. As I write this, my duffle is out by the door, ready to be loaded into the car, as I set off on the book tour. After ten days in the Pacific Northwest, I fly to France for three weeks of touring there, for an earlier novel, IF NOT FOR THIS, or, more accurately, MON DÉSIR LE PLUS ARDENT, then I return to Montana and, the next day, resume the U.S. tour, catch my breath in August by finishing the shop I’m building, then return to France for the European release of A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO (LA VIE EN CHANTIER) in September and October. Then, finally, I’ll spend the winter building cabinets and windows for the last push on our own house, just like Taz’s, the kitchen and bathroom.
These are, of course, all excellent problems to have, but what I’m writing next is tapping on my shoulder already, asking for a bit of attention. By winter it will be tugging on my whole arm, shouting for it.
It’s been a joy. Thank you, Pete! And Happy Father’s Day.
For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pete Fromm is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not For This, As Cool As I Am and How All This Started; the story collection Dry Rain; and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He is on the faculty of Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and lives in Montana with his family.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Counterpoint Press and used with permission. Author photo credit: Emmanuel Romer. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]