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A Hot and Cold ‘Frost’

CBR_Logo2An Untimely Frost (or, The Authoress)
A Novel
by Ted Morrissey

An Untimely Frost is prefaced by two quotes on loneliness, one from Washington Irving, the other Mary Shelley. These quotes serve both to set up one of the major themes of the novel and to nod toward its inspiration: the rumored hint of romance between the aforementioned authors.

an-untimely-frost-front-coverWritten by Illinois author Ted Morrissey, An Untimely Frost concerns Jefferson Wheelwright, an American author hailing from a family of industrial wealth, traveling Europe to promote the impending publication of his latest work, and on Margret Healey, a mysterious, reclusive British author whose only published novel to date, Dunkelraum, regards a German scientist who built a man from the body parts of dead people and reanimated him. The two authors’ lives of solitude intertwine when Wheelwright visits Healey’s house in an attempt to meet her, having been a fan of her work since he was a boy. Events conspire to leave Wheelwright a resident of Healey’s house, serving as her companion. The authors’ quick-to-develop, complicated, but somewhat platonic kinship for one another provides the bulk of the novel’s plot. But it is with their artistic struggles, self-doubts, and suffering that Morrissey most concerns himself.

This is primarily a novel about novelists, for novelists. Long passages of the book are devoted to reading, writing, editing, and the struggles and revelations therein, and the depiction of the relationship between the authors and their art provide some of the novel’s most exhilarating passages. But Morrissey reaches beyond the analysis of artistic creation to examine the effect upon the authors of their varying levels of success and, moreover, the effect a truly great work of literature can have upon society at large, with his depiction of the fictitious novel’s absorption into Britain’s cultural consciousness.

The true stroke of genius in An Untimely Frost comes with its head-spinning ending, which acts as a compelling meta-analysis of the writing process, breaking the fourth wall and adding a whole, third dimension to the novel, casing everything that had come before it into doubt, and adding a clear concept to the novel in its dying moments.

Although its analysis of writing is at times enthralling, it seems Morrissey himself got too caught up in the act of it. An Untimely Frost is frightfully overwritten; each scene is described with exhausting detail, every movement carried out by every character, the smallest details of every setting, Wheelwright’s every thought, are ruminated upon at length. The scenes themselves seem to go on endlessly, with some passages contributing but the smallest details to the narrative. Scenes such as the one in which Wheelwright and his doctor, Carter, visit a carnival and then a hospital could be cut down to half their length and the novel as a whole would lose nothing. The same can be said of Wheelwright’s and Healey’s day out in London together.

Author Ted Morrissey

Moreover, Morrissey constantly gets caught up in dream sequences, describing—or, worse—relaying word-for-word plays and novels Wheelwright is watching or reading. It doesn’t take long for these digressions to become unbearably tiresome, particularly when they concern plays such as Romeo and Juliet, the description of which could have been dispatched with one paragraph or less.

At times, the over-written nature of the novel can make it feel more like a cartoon pastiche of the ramblings of a lonely grandfather than a work of literature. Any momentum the story builds, any excitement or intrigue at the moments of surrealism injected into this otherwise realist work is drained by Wheelwright’s incessant narration. Wheelwright is a character with depth, and Morrissey’s development of him is excellent, but the novel itself would not suffer from concision on the character’s part.

There are moments of true brilliance in An Untimely Frost. It reads like it was written by a post-modernist emulating Henry James, which proves to be an intriguing combination. The story’s ending is as strong as many, and the author’s writing is in turns funny and harrowing. But one can’t help but feel that these attributes can’t help save the novel from the monotony of its first and much of its second acts. Perhaps with more ruthless editing, the novel could have been a triumph. As it stands, it is a wonderful idea that wasn’t quite pulled off.

Two-Star Review

January 2014, Twelve Winters Press
$17.95, paperback, 362 pages
ISBN: 978-0989515115

—Reviewed by William Wright

Read more about the author and his book.



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Guest Post: Society of Midland Authors Talks Chicago Indie Publishing

CBR_Logo2Chicago has a thriving scene of small companies publishing books. Just check out all of the tables featuring these publishers at events like the Printers Row Lit Fest or the Chicago Book Expo.

Four of the area’s leading book publishers—Victor David Giron of Curbside Splendor, Emily Victorson of Allium Press, Sharon Woodhouse of Everything Goes Media and Ian Morris of Fifth Star Press—will talk about their craft and their business in a Society of Midland Authors panel discussion on Tuesday, February 11, at the Cliff Dwellers Club, 200 S. Michigan Ave., 22nd floor, Chicago.

Admission is free, and the event is open to the public, with no reservations required. A social hour, with complimentary snacks and a cash bar, begins at 6 p.m., with the discussion starting at 7 p.m.2869_183662100485_2900751_n

The Society of Midland Authors was founded almost a century ago—in 1915—and the group continues today with more than 300 members in 12 Midwestern states. The society gives out annual awards for the region’s best books, and it also holds public literary events at the Cliff Dwellers Club and other venues.

The companies taking part in the February 11 discussion include Curbside Splendor, which was recently praised by NewCity for the “Best splash made by a local press in the last year.” Known as “a hotspot for emerging talents,” Curbside Splendor publishes literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and art that “celebrate the delicate point where gritty urban life and art intersect.” Titles include Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby, Zero Fade by Chris L. Terry, and Let Go and Go On and On by Tim Kinsella.

The Society of Midland Authors’ newsletter, Literary License, asked Curbside Splendor’s Giron how a new small publisher can carve out a niche. “By having a sound mission statement, sticking to it, and operating like a big publisher would,” he said. “Meaning, if you’re going to be taken seriously, then you need to adhere to production and publication schedules, and produce work that is of high quality from a design and editing perspective, and be true to what you’re branding yourself as.”

Allium Press of Chicago was founded in 2009 as a small, independent press and publishes literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and young adult fiction, all with a Chicago connection. Recent titles include Des Plaines River Anthology, Tim Chapman’s Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold, and Barbara Garland Polikoff’s Her Mother’s Secret.

KP-Cover-front-198x300Everything Goes Media has three imprints: Lake Claremont Press (publishing nonfiction books about Chicago for 20 years, including the upcoming second edition of Graveyards of Chicago by Ursula Bielski and Matt Hucke), Everything Goes Media (gift, niche, and lifestyle nonfiction), and S. Woodhouse Books (a new line of thought-provoking nonfiction that will publish its first book, For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle That Spread Hate Across America by Dale W. Laackman, this spring).

Fifth Star Press is an independent, not-for-profit publishing house devoted to Chicago’s publishing past, present, and future. Recent books include The City’s Maw:  A Henry Blake Fuller Reader and a reissue of MacKinlay Kantor’s 1928 Chicago novel Diversey.

For more information on the Society of Midland Authors, visit http://www.midlandauthors.com.

—Robert Loerzel, vice president, Society of Midland Authors

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