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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

New Novella Broaches Climate Change Through A One-Sided Conversation

Have you ever listened in as someone next to you was talking on the phone? Maybe you were able to fill in the blanks to interpret what the person on the other end of the line is saying?

You could probably learn a lot even without hearing the other person. At least that’s the premise of a new novella by author Peter Gould. 

His new book is called Marly and it reads entirely as a one-sided conversation that the narrator has with a woman, Marly.

It's left to the reader to fill in her end of the conversation.

The format marks a new approach for Gould, who has also published two earlier novels, Burnt Toast and Write Naked, which won the National Green Earth Book Award in 2009.

Gould says the idea for Marly came to him when he was up north in the woods at Sterling College.

“It was a decision which was made for me,” says Gould. “I was trying to write something funny on the subject of the environment and global warming and climate change, which is not really a funny subject.”

Gould says all of a sudden, the idea for “the voice, the idea for the two characters, the idea for the situation and the idea for the form leapt into my head.”

Injecting humor into environmental issues

Gould says he decided to make it a short novella since he wasn’t sure how long a reader could stick with the unique format. The basic premise of the story is that the narrator is a man who sees Marley, a “Rasta” professor at the college. The narrator is attracted to her and tries to woo her in his own, sometimes rather bumbling, way. And there are some pointed environmental themes woven throughout the tale.

Large industrial wind projects on Vermont ridge lines do not come across especially well in this book.

“I would say that that's true but I'd say also that it’s fiction,” says Gould. “Like it says on Facebook: It's complicated.”

Gould says we all want to fight climate change, but he’s talked with some northern Vermonters who don’t think constructing a wind farm on their ridge line is the right way to go about it. 

"Even though he's a funny guy, I think all the best lines are her lines. But you have to make them up." - Peter Gould

  “And it seems to me that if we really want to win over the people who are not sure about the struggle for fighting climate change, that one of the best ways to do that would be to really choose the forms that will win over hearts and minds of more people,” he says.

The book address many of the conventions or stereotypes associated with Vermont, but the character of Marly comes across as way more complex. Throughout the story, Gould illuminates the vulnerabilities of both characters, even through this one-sided dialogue.

What’s the take away?

Gould says he wants people to have fun with the book and experience a new style.

“The form asks the reader to do more work than they usually do, because really, I mean even though he's a funny guy, I think all the best lines are her lines,” says Gould. “But you have to make them up.”

Gould says originally the book was going to be called “Chuck,” named after the male narrator. But then a friend of his read the novella and said: "You really need to change the title of it because this book is really not his book. It's really her book. It's about her.”

Gould says he wanted readers to take away the idea that climate change is a complex issue. In the book, the characters believe that the best way to get the maximum number of people on board to fighting climate change is to choose the forms of alternative energy that more and more people will accept. 

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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