To the Best of Our Knowledge, July 2014

“[What starts me writing a story] is not an idea—what is the ether of space?—it’s an image related to that idea. So it’s an image of, in this case, these gigantic, whirling machines made of iron that Sir Oliver Lodge used… It’s jellyfish pulsing in the ocean, and a line drawing of a gigantic jellyfish from the 1870s. That image leads me into the idea, and those two things together lead me to the characters in a story.”

The Story Prize Reading and Awards, March 2014

“One of the things [the stories in Archangel] seemed to to me to have in common was that sense [of] the great passion and love we can have for a theory that will turn out to be completely wrong – we can’t know that when we’re working on something, we love a wrong theory the way we love a right theory; it’s history that makes that judgment. But the people who have spent their whole life working so hard on something that turned out not to turn out well, that’s a difficult path.”

Studio 360, November 2013

“That idea of – what is evidence, how much evidence or data do you need to convince someone of a politically difficult or emotionally difficult position, that’s what really fascinates me, and I think that’s what drove some of the stories in [Archangel].”

Lucid Stars

“A quietly charming, seductive first novel… The dynamics of the modern broken home… are limned here with rare sensitivity and insight.” — Publishers Weekly

Lucid Stars

 

What begins as a classic boy-meets-girl tale in 1955 becomes something far different when marriage and two children do not bring a family closer together. Lucid Stars is the moving story of how one family learns to survive by becoming a planetary system that just happens to be missing its sun.

Reviews

“A bright, absorbing first novel… [Barrett’s] prose style is extraordinarily confident.” — Kirkus (starred review)

“Subtle and beautifully crafted… Barrett’s prose is clear and lyrical.” — The Washington Post

“A moving exploration of the nature of family… An impressive debut.” — Library Journal

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Secret Harmonies

“Andrea Barrett’s characters are set out with meticulous care… Remarkably touching.” — The Los Angeles Times

Secret Harmonies

 

When childhood sweethearts Reba Dwyer and Luke Wyatt marry, they expect no surprises. But now that Luke—friend of Reba’s childhood, friend of her heart—is her husband, discord enters their lives. Secret Harmonies is a portrait of people struggling to make sense of their lives in the rural hills of western Massachusetts, an utterly absorbing, moving story of what happens to this couple and to the eccentric constellation of loved ones swirling around them.

Reviews

“Barrett has… an unrelenting instinct for what is true and for how human beings experience life… [Her characters] draw the reader passionately into their stories.” — The Orlando Sentinel

“An elegant, poetic prose style; dazzling imagery; a subtle understanding of the complexities of personality; and an ability to look unflinchingly at the compromises people make with life and yet retain compassion and affection for her characters.” — The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“Poignant and atmospheric… Elegant, accessible writing.” — Publishers Weekly

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The Middle Kingdom

“An exhilarating book… wonderful insights… Ms. Barrett has captured a truly authentic Beijing.” — Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

The Middle Kingdom

 

For Grace, the ardent yet puzzled heroine of Andrea Barrett’s third novel, this trip has been planned as a three-week stay: she’s to play dutiful wife to Walter, her prominent scientist husband, at the 1986 Beijing International Conference on the Effects of Acid Rain. Walter is twelve years older than Grace, and as sour as the rain he studies; he and Grace are at a particularly troubled point in their marriage. Their tightly circumscribed visit, however, becomes a journey exceedingly less tidy and more complex as Grace falls forever out of love with her husband and very much in love with this country and its culture.

Reviews

“An affecting novel about an American woman’s self-discovery…. Barrett here re-creates not China itself but, more reasonably, her heroine’s fascination with it, and she manages to infuse her characters, Grace especially, with a psychic energy and charm.” — Publishers Weekly

“With The Middle Kingdom, Andrea Barrett further consolidates her position as one of our most thoughtful chroniclers of contemporary life…. The Middle Kingdom is another impressive milestone in what promises to be a long and fruitful literary journey by an accomplished American author.” — The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

The Middle Kingdom is engaging. Andrea Barrett writes with felicity, intelligence, and humor.” — The Washington Post

The Middle Kingdom proves again that Andrea Barrett is a writer of talent and promise.”  — San Francisco Chronicle

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The Forms of Water

“Intelligent and elegiac… [a] winning novel.” — The Washington Post

The Forms of Water

 

At the age of eighty, Brendan Auberon—formerly of the Order of Our Lady of the Valley, now confined to a nursing home—has one last wish: to see his 200 acres overlooking what used to be Paradise Valley, before the villages were drowned to provide water for the city of Boston. Now, Brendan’s memories drift beneath the surface of the Stillwater Reservoir. When Brendan dupes his nephew, Henry, into hijacking the nursing home van for the journey, what begins as a lark becomes considerably more complicated.

With a sharp eye for the complexities of family life, The Forms of Water is a rich and absorbing look at grief and the ties that continue to bind us to the past.

Reviews

“If any group of mortals knows how it feels to be expelled from paradise, it’s the Auberon clan, the appealingly wretched family in Andrea Barrett’s fourth novel… Barrett nicely details the quiet agonies of people who have fallen from grace through bad luck and worse judgment, and suggests that if you can’t regain paradise, you can at least make peace with its loss.”  — New York Times Book Review

“Subtle and strong… Barrett’s talents shine… Barrett not only gets the geographical terrain right, she has the emotional terrain down as well.” — Detroit News

“Barrett returns with her speciality – a story about the tangled web of a family told in prose that’s spun smooth as silk…The strength this time around lies in Barrett’s fine writing and the haunting power of the water, rising to fill that reservoir. It was a real event, but like the best of fiction writers, Barrett makes it more than real.” — Kirkus

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Ship Fever

“Her work stands out for its sheer intelligence, its painstaking attempt to discern and describe the world’s configuration.” — New York Times

1996 National Book Award Winner for Fiction

Ship Fever

 

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In “Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In “The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in “The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, “science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material” (Boston Globe).

Reviews

“The title novella is devastating: as with every story here, you enter right into it, and cannot entirely leave it behind.” — The New Yorker

“Marvelous stories, unlike any being written today.”— Kirkus

“[A] gorgeously imagined story collection… Barrett’s stories are precise and concentrated, containing a truly remarkable wealth of psychological and social commentary.” — Booklist

“Ranks with the best of the new wave of historical writing… Barrett courses back and forth over the history of science and the science of human relations in the nineteenth century, giving us the people behind the history—doctors, collectors, inventors, and women—a glory of passion, ambition, and love. This is just simply inspired writing.” — Douglas Glover

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    The Voyage of the Narwhal

    “Breathes with a contemporary urgency, an exhilarating adventure novel… A genuine page-turner that long lingers in the mind.” — Chicago Tribune

    The Voyage of the Narwhal

     

    Capturing a crucial moment in the history of exploration, the mid-nineteenth century romance with the Arctic, Andrea Barrett focuses on a particular expedition and its accompanying scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells. Through his eyes, we meet the Narwhal’s crew and its commander—obsessed with the search for an open polar sea—and encounter the far-north culture of the Esquimaux. In counterpoint, we see the women left behind in Philadelphia, explorers only in imagination. Together, those who travel and those who stay weave a web of myth and mystery. And finally they discover—as all explorers do—not what was always there and never needed discovering, but the state of their own souls.

    Reviews

    “Like ‘Ship Fever,’ ‘Narwhal’ showcases Ms. Barrett’s gifts for extracting high drama from the complex world of science and natural history and for placing her characters in situations that reveal their fundamental natures.” —  New York Times Book Review

    “The intellectual range exhibited by this magnificent novel places its author in the rarefied company of great contemporary encyclopedic writers like Pynchon, Gaddis, and Harry Mulisch…. You feel she could do full justice to… whatever subject she chooses.” — Kirkus

    “Barrett delivers a stunning novel in which a meticulous grasp of historical and natural detail, insight into character and pulse-pounding action are integrated into a dramatic adventure story with deep moral resonance.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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