It's publication day for My Name is a Knife, which shares a birthday with David Hasselhoff and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (so it's a Tuesday's-child-is-full-of-grace, and a Cancer, in the French-World-Cup-winning Year of the Dog, and I don't know what else). It certainly feels like a strange time for book promotion (Angela Merkel was also born on this day, as it turns out). I've been thinking about parallels with the book's world, another tumultuous and uncertain era. The American Revolution was barely through, the British and French were still present, making and breaking various Indigenous alliances, and the settler push westwards was roiling.
This book is in many ways about people's inner spheres, and these events make the background as Dan returns to Boonesborough to warn of an impending attack by the Shawnee who adopted him. His mental turmoil mirrors the historical one (and I know a lot of us have been feeling similarly in the last months). His wife Rebecca, who has left the fort with most of her children, is also full of uncertainty about what's happened to Dan, and what's going to happen to her family. Her rage at his lack of consideration for them in his drive to explore is a kind of #MeToo, and writing about the damage to their marriage felt very modern. The novel is in both Rebecca's and Dan's voices; we also get the attitudes of more ferocious settlers, and of some of the Shawnee, like Chief Black Fish, Dan's adoptive father and a powerful leader, and Pompey, their interpreter and a former slave. The roots of now are there.
Dan and Rebecca are complicated characters who aren't always right, for all their hopes to make things work. Here's Emily Wilson, the brilliant translator of The Odyssey, the story of another legendary figure in a fraught time, and the fallout around him:
I think the capacity of literature to create these rich, complex questions or fault-lines, between what
this or that character thinks, and what the whole story might be saying, is one of the biggest reasons
why literature matters. It makes us see / feel / be more.
I hope my book will do that in its small way.
I'm the author of My Name is a Knife, All True Not a Lie In It, and The Old Familiar.