Wednesday, 7:00 pm EST May 31, 2023
The Center for Fiction
The Ticket/Voucher option includes a $10 Bookstore voucher, redeemable toward the featured event books on the night of the event. All registrants will receive a link to livestream the event.
American history as we know it is the result of countless overlapping butterfly effects, coincidences, and collective choices. But what if the many drops in the bucket amounted to something just a little different? Former Marine Corps Special Operations Team Leader and writer Elliot Ackerman (2034: A Novel of the Next World War, Red Dress in Black and White) and science journalist Christine Grillo discuss their takes on an alternate United States of America—one where the reflections of the past echo differently in the present. Ackerman’s Halcyon is set during Al Gore’s second term as president after he has successfully funded a cure for death, and Grillo’s debut novel, Hestia Strikes a Match, imagines daily life against the backdrop of a new, present-day civil war. Co-presented by Harper’s Magazine and moderated by Chris Beha (The Index of Self-Destructive Acts), enter into a discussion about alternate U.S.A.s as a storytelling device, the craft of writing, and the ways in which exploring false histories can reveal profound truths.
Elliot Ackerman is the author of the novels Red Dress in Black and White, Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing (a finalist for the National Book Award), and Green on Blue (a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize), as well as the memoir Places and Names, and is the coauthor with Admiral James Stavridis of the bestseller 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. Ackerman is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Schukar
Christine Grillo is a writer and editor covering food systems, agriculture, and climate change, whose nonfiction has been published in outlets such as the New York Times, the Atlantic: CityLab, Audubon, NextTribe, and Real Simple. Her short fiction has appeared in Story Quarterly, the Southern Review, and LIT. Hestia Strikes a Match is her first novel.
Photo Credit: Howard Korn
Christopher Beha is the editor of Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of a memoir, The Whole Five Feet, and the novels Arts & Entertainments and What Happened to Sophie Wilder. His latest novel, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, was nominated for the 2020 National Book Award. He is currently writing an intellectual history of atheism for Penguin Press.
Photo Credit: Ira Lippke
By Elliot Ackerman
Published by Knopf / Penguin Random House
Virginia, 2004. Gore is entering his second term as president. Our narrator, a recently divorced historian, is living at Halcyon, the estate of renowned lawyer and World War II hero Robert Ableson. When scientists, funded by the Gore administration, find a cure for death, more and more of life’s certainties get called into question, including Ableson’s identity. Is this new science a miraculous good or an insidious evil? Is Ableson a man outside of time, or is he the product of a new era? How does America’s fate hang in the balance? Stretching from Civil War battles to the toppling of Confederate monuments, from scholarly debates to intimate family secrets, Halcyon is a profound and probing novel that grapples with what history means, who is affected by it, and how the complexities of our shared future rest on the dual foundations of remembering and forgetting.
Hestia Strikes a Match
By Christine Grillo
Published by Macmillan
The year is 2023, and things are bad—bad, but still not as bad as they could be. Hestia Harris is forty-two, abandoned by her husband (he left to ﬁght for the Union cause), and estranged from her parents (they’re leaving for the Confederacy). Yes, the United States has collapsed into a second civil war and again it’s Unionists against Confederates, children against parents, friends against friends.
Hestia has left journalism (too much war reporting) for a job at a Baltimore retirement village on the Inner Harbor (lots of security). She’s single and adrift, save for her coworkers and Mildred, an eighty-four-year-old, thrice-happily-married resident who gleefully supports Hestia’s half-hearted but hopeful attempts to ﬁnd love again in a time of chaos and disunion. She reckons with the big questions (How do we live in the midst of political collapse? How do we love people who believe terrible things?) and the little ones (How do I decorate a nonworking fireplace? Can I hook up with a mime?), all while wrestling with that simmering, roiling, occasionally boiling feeling that things are decidedly not okay, but we have to keep going, one foot in front of the other, because maybe, just maybe, we can still ﬁnd the kinds of relationships that sustain a person through anything.
Christine Grillo’s Hestia Strikes a Match is an irreverent, incisive, laugh-out-loud interrogation of modern love of all kinds, in all its messy beauty. Equal parts wise and hilarious, it ﬁlls the heart, fortiﬁes the spirit, and will surely help to fend oﬀ despair. In the face of the everyday wildness of our times, it asks and answers that newly constant question: How do we make a full, wonderfully ordinary life when the whole mad world is clattering down around us?.