A novel that ranges over the subjects of loss, marriage, politics, and art, Time Stamp is a searing depiction of the way parents’ lives affect their children through their untold or barely told stories—things that exist in the ether of family life and persist, yet play out differently on the stage of a new generation. Told in alternating narratives that open in 1911 when eleven-year-old Will Wheelock is on the periphery of a South Carolina lynching, and in 1997 when Will’s daughter, Maddie, is attending a London retrospective of her photographs of refugee camps, Time Stamp encompasses most of the twentieth century. With the trajectory of two arrows aimed at the same target, Will’s story moves forward and Maddie’s backward until they collide in 1972 during Richard Nixon’s Christmas bombing of Hanoi. It is a pivotal moment when Will’s lifetime as a fence-sitting public servant shatters, and Maddie’s true personal and artistic quest begins.
From the Interview:
Many of your stories and novels have dealt with the theme of relationships between the generations and how these relationships evolve, what we do or do not inherit from our ancestors, how timing and circumstances affect our generational relationships. In the course of exploring this theme, have your own ideas about generational relationships evolved?
—Martha Douglas, St. Paul, Minnesota
I’ve been circling this question for a while, Martha, deciding where to land. I think the answer is to start with Time Stamp. Read more…
Time Stamp chronicles the lives of a father and a daughter over many decades, but thrumming beneath the surface are the frustrations of the family matriarch—frustrations that are indelibly captured in a pastoral scene where she rides a spirited horse that ends in a grim, cruel moment. Could you comment on how you view this character and her circumstances as a privileged, but unfulfilled, woman of a particular generation?
—Julia Hunter, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Julia, I was first caught by the word matriarch in this question because people often just think of a matriach as a woman who presides with a particular authority and age over a large family.
Grace Harrison, the minor background character in Time Stamp, who is Maddie’s former mother-in-law, is exactly that kind of matriarch. But I’m actually more interested in another of the dictionary meanings—a matriarch as a woman who holds a position of dominance. I’m in luck as that’s clearly what you’re drawing on here.
The really tantalizing thing for me is the nature of that dominance in Reeve, Will Wheelock’s wife. In essence, it’s an emotional power Reeve holds and, as you suggest, much of it derives from the fact she chafes at her role as a wife to a person whose position gives her no real outlet for her independence and innate curiosity and gifts. Even her beliefs. Read more…
Did Time Stamp ever have another name, or did you call it that from the start?
—Marjorie Horwitz, Scarsdale, New York
Like many of my short stories and all of my other books, Time Stamp had earlier titles before I settled on the name. I’ve actually always found titles a particular challenge. You want them to sound right and be memorable. They need to establish a tone or provide information that sets the stage for the reader, and also to be the place the reader returns at the end of the book and finds a certain summing up. A title has to do a whole lot.
Until fairly recently, I thought Time Stamp would be published as The Christmas Bombing since Richard Nixon’s Christmas-time bombing of Hanoi in 1972 is the event the book points to that also acts as a sort of hinge for the narrative. However, a couple of things happened. First, there was the attempted Christmas airliner bombing by the underwear bomber. I didn’t want readers to be expecting that would be part of the story just as I hadn’t wanted the magician’s trunk that is important in The Second Magician’s Tale and was called a lockbox to be confused with the lockbox Al Gore was going to use for Social Security. In both cases, I opted for a different name. Read more…
Time Stamp: From Chapter One: October, 1911, Near Honea Path, South Carolina
Time Stamp: Chapter Two: December, 1997, London
Time Stamp: Chapter Four: Flashback from 1979, Colombia
Time Stamp: Chapter Five: 1929, Washington, DC
Time Stamp: Chapter Eleven (from part iii): December, 1972, Washington, DC
Time Stamp: Chapter Eleven (from part iv): December, 1972, Washington, DC
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic
“One Tree Hill,” The Joshua Tree, U2
“Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla, Classic Yo-Yo, Antonio Agri, et.al.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21, Mozart Festival Orchestra and Albert Lizzio
To explore further, please go to the Book Groups tab for Comments and Quotes, questions for Emily (Short Takes-Q&A), and suggested discussion questions. And look in Bonus Excerpts in Excerpts for Baseball Moments, Bar Scenes and Church Scenes.