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September 20, 2013

Pulitzer winner's new novel inspired by Wenham

(Continued)

Harding, who graduated from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in 1986, also said there are particular people he knew in Wenham who appear as characters in the book.

One of these, a woman who lived in an estate off Cherry Street where he and his friends used to sled and fish, scolded him in real life exactly the way she does in the book.

But however much literal and historical detail travels from Wenham into Enon — which was the early settlers’ original name for the town — it is how Harding uses this material that makes his novel sing.

He acknowledges that his style and methods are inspired by New England writers from the Transcendentalist movement in the 19th century, such as Emerson, Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.

“I’m in the same place and do the same things, taking landscapes and refracting them through character,” he said. “It’s just the idea that conscious experience, paying attention to it and taking the time to render its nuances, is its own justification.”

As in “Tinkers,” where one character’s mind is decaying and another character suffers from epilepsy, Charlie Crosby’s experience in “Enon” is that of a man operating at the edge of reason.

“The protagonist has this ordinary life and has ordinary love for his daughter, and can describe it in terms everyone would recognize,” Harding said. “When this terrible thing happens, it puts terrible pressure on him. Suddenly, normal language and ideas are no longer adequate to his experience of the world.”

Charlie’s reflections on the boundary between life and death lead to fantastic speculations, but these are balanced by confrontations with his conscience.

“I’m interested in disciplining myself to write the things that seem most difficult about human experience,” Harding said. “Why bother trying to make art if you’re not trying to make it out of the most difficult material?”

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