RAHWAY – Rahway native Tricia Dower will return to the town she grew up in for the U.S. launch of her book, “Silent Girl.” Dower will take part in a book reading in the Union County Performing Arts Center annex on Irving Street, part of the Rahway Arts Council’s First Thursdays program on Oct. 2.
Dower, who now resides in Canada, published “Silent Girl” in May to positive reviews from the Canadian press. “Silent Girl” is a collection of short stories set in contemporary times that were inspired by eight different Shakespearean plays.
“The collection was sparked by a university production of ‘Othello’ my husband and I saw in 2004,” Dower said. “Sitting in the darkened theater, watching and reflecting on how willingly Desdemona allowed her life to end, I thought of domestic abuse victims today and the seeming collusion of some in their own misfortune. Many, like Desdemona, are socially isolated. The story that resulted from that evening, ‘Nobody; I Myself,’ ended up being as much about idealism and racism in the U.S. in the 1960s as it was about social isolation, but that’s the thing about stories; they often end up being about something other than what you intended.”
“Once I had written that story, I decided it might be fun to find other modern-day counterparts to Shakespeare’s female characters. So I got out my ancient 1,337-page Shakespeare text from my days at Gettysburg College and started to search for likely candidates,” Dower continued.
“The search led me into the world of bride kidnapping, human trafficking, addiction to violence, gender politics and gender ambiguity. The characters who inspired the rest of the stories were Miranda from ‘The Tempest,’ Marina from ‘Pericles,’ Kate from ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ Hermione from ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ Gertrude from ‘Hamlet,’ Olivia and Viola from ‘Twelfth Night,’ and Volumnia from ‘Coriolanus.’”
Rahway seemed like a perfect place for the U.S. launch of the short story collection. Two of the books stories are set here. “I don’t mention the town by name, but in ‘Nobody; I Myself,’ you’ll find a reference to Haydock Street, Second Presbyterian Church, Newark, and other more veiled references a Rahway resident during the 50s and 60s might recognize,” Dower said.
“The second story in which I imagined Rahway as a setting is the first one in the book, called ‘Not Meant to Know,’” Dower said. “The house I was born into and grew up in is located at 699 East Grand Avenue, a couple of blocks away from one section of the Rahway River. A big draw when I was a kid was the punks (cattails) down by the river. My friends and I would ‘smoke’ them. The punks and much of that neighborhood (including a scary big house owned by the Simmons family) that colored my childhood world made it into that story as setting. The story events are totally fabricated.”
Dower said that growing up in Rahway shaped her worldview, contributing to who she is today.
“I grew up feeling safe, despite the periodic air raid sirens. Mr. Dunphy the fire chief lived across the street from us and Bill Kenney, a policeman, a few blocks away. Our street had block parties and gathered at the corner store to discuss local matters — what to do about a rabid dog that wandered down the middle of the street one day, for example. My father worked as Merck’s (most fathers did!) and it remained a benevolent employer a lot longer than many, Dower said. “But there were secrets in our town and adults who couldn’t be trusted to keep you safe and from an early age I sensed that so much was kept hidden from me. The stories I find compelling often deal with what lies beneath the surface of seemingly safe and “normal” lives.”
Dower didn’t take up writing until six years ago, when she retired from her position as Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Communications for ING Canada, a financial services organization. Still, she credits Rahway High School English teacher John Casey for planting the seed in her mind that she could be a writer.
Dower will have copies of the book available at her readings next week, which run from 6:15-7 p.m. and 7:15-8 p.m. “Silent Girl” is being distributed by SPD in the United States. Copies can be purchased from www.spdbooks.org. Dower is also hoping that local bookstores and libraries will cary it.
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