By Leslie Lindsay
An enthralling, atmospheric domestic thriller in a somber tone amidst the backdrop of the 1940s-1960s.
I loved Cynthia Swanson’s debut, THE BOOKSELLER (see my 2015 interview here) and absolutely had to get my hands on her next book and I am so, so glad I did. THE GLASS FOREST (Simon Schuster/Touchstone, Feb 6 2018) is a stunning read and such a character study as much as it is a quiet thriller.
The Glass family is tied together by a tenuous web of lies. Oh, but at first, like any family, they seem completely ‘normal.’ There’s an underlying sense of doom, of something that’s not quite right that I found irresistible.
Told from the POV of three women: Angie the young mother/wife, Silja the older mother/wife and missing person, and Ruby, her teenage daughter, THE GLASS FOREST is beautifully written with echoes of Anita Shreve’s THE STARS ARE FIRE and a bit of Celeste Ng’s work.
Angie and Paul Glass are living an idyllic life in Door County, Wisconsin when they get a call that his brother has been found dead and his wife is missing. They rush, with 6 month old PJ in tow, to Stonekill, NY where the other Glass family lives in a gorgeous, sprawling ranch home with floor-to-ceiling windows nestled in the woods to help 17 year old Ruby through the investigation and bereavement. Nothing is right and everything is dark and twisted.
The backstory is important and will transport you to the early 1940s in an instant. Swanson’s gift lies in gorgeous details, a languid and almost somber storytelling style that had me mesmerized.
In the end, you’ll find that this story is quite unsettling, smart, and disturbing. Please join me in welcoming Cynthia back to the blog couch.
Leslie Lindsay: Cynthia, I feel as though with every story, every novel, there’s a ‘jumping off’ point, what was it for you in THE GLASS FOREST?
Cynthia Swanson: This idea for The Glass Forest stewed inside my head for a long time. As with most of my story ideas, it arose from a question: what would it be like to occupy the home of someone who had abruptly gone missing? How could you resist looking for clues around every corner? The story grew from that seed, with the particulars coming to me over a number of years.
I started writing The Glass Forest about a year before The Bookseller was released. It took me 2 ½ years to write The Glass Forest – but I was revising and promoting The Bookseller throughout that time.
L.L.: I’m intrigued with your glass house concept. There’s one near me in Chicagoland: The Farnsworth House. It’s small and really only intended for one person as a retreat from city life, but the Stone Ridge Road house you describe in THE GLASS FOREST is so, so cool. Can you tell us more about your vision?
Cynthia Swanson: I’ve always been drawn to great design. I was an architecture major for the first two years of college, before going back to writing (my first love) and getting an English degree instead. I’ve long been enthralled with glass-walled MCM* homes. I belong to a few MCM enthusiast groups on Facebook, and it’s pure eye candy to scroll through the listings and photos posted in those groups. Looking at those pictures provided inspiration for Silja and Henry’s house. [*MCM = mid-century modern]
In my memory, there were glass houses in Westchester County, NY (where I grew up and where fictional Stonekill is), although I didn’t know anyone who’d lived in one. (I grew up in a 1920s Tudor, and most of my friends lived in ranches, split-levels, or old-town Victorians like the Glasses’ first house in Stonekill.) Because I didn’t know anyone with a glass house in that area, I spent a day driving around Westchester, scouting out homes. I found several that looked something like I pictured Silja’s. And the winding roads through the woods were just as I remembered them.
L.L.: And so the title is related, of course because the family’s name is Glass, the house is so very transparent, and well…there are secrets upon secrets. There’s also the dichotomy of old versus new for the Stonekill Glasses: they once lived in a fixer-upper Victorian in the middle of town before building the glass house. What is it about homes that make us so vulnerable?
Cynthia Swanson: For many of us, “home” represents both refuge and confinement. Our homes are about the physical space, of course, but they’re also about our relationships with other people – those we live with as well as those who aren’t there. A house is not just representative of its inhabitants – it also represents the absence created when someone is missing from the home. Absence manifests in many ways – it could be someone who has never lived there but we wish did, (perhaps a relationship we wish we had), or someone who has moved away (such as a grown child) – or, of course, a death in the family. This is unnerving to think about, and it makes us realize why even within a “safe” physical space, we sometimes feel exposed.
L.L.: The glass house was Silja’s dream home. What might your dream home be like?
Cynthia Swanson: Probably a combination of Silja’s house and my own! We live in a 1958 tri-level that we’ve spent a lot of years “unmodeling” – taking out the 1980s/90s “updates” and replacing them with vintage and retro elements. My house is larger than Silja’s (because in this day and age we all need 3 1/2 bathrooms, right?), but it’s not as stylized as hers. Although my house has more square footage, it feels more homey than I’d envision Silja’s house would – but that could be because we all get along relatively well around here. While we have a large picture window in the living room, we don’t have walls of glass. I would love it if we did!
L.L.: THE GLASS FOREST is your second book. And it’s amazing. But sometimes authors struggle with that second book. Did you ever feel ‘stuck’ with this one? And if so, how did you get ‘unstuck?’
Cynthia Swanson: The Glass Forest stretched me as a writer on so many levels. It’s much more plot-heavy than The Bookseller, so I had to learn a lot about pacing and structure. As a thriller, it had to wrap up logically. Making sure all those loose ends tied up was important to me.
As for the narrative itself, there was a point where both my agent and I had read the manuscript over and over – and we knew it needed something, but we weren’t sure what. On my agent’s advice, I hired a developmental editor, Pat Mulcahy, who made the excellent suggestion to change Angie’s point of view from third person to first, and Ruby’s from first to third. (Silja’s chapters were always in third person.) Pat’s reasoning was that as readers, we are discovering secrets right alongside Angie, while Ruby is more mysterious – so it makes sense to allow readers direct access to Angie’s thoughts, while Ruby remains a bit removed. It was amazing what a difference that made. I hadn’t seen it, and neither had my agent; we’d needed fresh professional eyes on it, and Pat worked her magic.
L.L.: We creative types need inspiration in all forms. I get inspired when I read, walk into a craft store, look at gorgeous home décor. What inspires you and your writing?
Cynthia Swanson: Reading! I love to read – in the genres I write in (I consider my work a combination of literary thriller, historical fiction, and women’s fiction) as well as in others. I enjoy magical realism, literary fiction, essay collections, and memoir. I’m inspired by the genius of my fellow authors. There are so many amazing books and writers out there. If I could change one characteristic of myself, I’d become a faster reader – because the way things stand, the chances of ever getting through my TBR list are slim-to-none.
L.L.: Are you working on anything new?
Cynthia Swanson: Yes, my third book is in-progress. Like The Bookseller and The Glass Forest, this one is also a near-history novel. It’s about a complex family during the early years of international adoption. I just returned from a fabulous research trip for the book, and I’m excited to dive back into revisions soon.
L.L.: Cynthia, it’s been a pleasure as always. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
Cynthia Swanson: How about: where can readers connect with Cynthia Swanson in the coming months?
My event schedule is here. I’ll be adding more events soon, so be sure to check back.
I also love chatting with book clubs. More info can be found here.
The pleasure is all mine, Leslie. Thank you!
For more information, to connect with Cynthia via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GLASS FOREST, please see:
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynthia Swanson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Bookseller, which is soon to be a motion picture starring Julia Roberts. An Indie Next selection and the winner of the 2016 WILLA Award for Historical Fiction, The Bookseller is being translated into more than a dozen languages. It was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and the MPIBA Reading the West Award. Cynthia’s second novel, The Glass Forest, is due from Touchstone / Simon & Schuster in February 2018. She lives with her family in Denver, Colorado.
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