New Novel Explores How Much Loss One Person Can Endure
By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer
(St. Paul, MN) – Has there ever been a time when you felt the deck was stacked against you, that everything was going wrong and that life was handing you far more than you could bear? It often sneaks up on people in middle age when natural, difficult life events may suddenly converge on a person all at once.
“I’ve seen people hit a wall in their 40s and 50s, a time when children leave the nest, your parents age and die, and long-simmering troubles often surface at work or in personal relationships. It’s a time when we may stop and wonder, ‘how much more can one person endure?’ I’ve seen this repeatedly in friends and loved ones, and I experienced this very same thing myself,” says Elliott Foster, the author of Panic River, released by Minnesota publisher Calumet Editions on November 1, 2019.
Panic River tells the fictional story of Corey Fischer, an almost forty-year-old gay man who experiences long-standing rejection by a homophobic father, a lack of support from his distant mother, and betrayal by the person who should be loving him the most—his partner, Nick. The couple’s marriage is on the rocks after nearly twenty years together. Nick has grown tired of supporting Corey, the struggling painter who isn’t contributing to the relationship financially as much as Nick thinks he should. But Corey is too wrapped up in his work at a cash-strapped Minnesota museum and trying to break-out as an artist to fully comprehend the depth of the couple’s problems, and he’s too timid to solve them as well.
Fate forces Corey’s hand following the unexpected death of his estranged father, Frank, and the spiteful twin gifts in Frank’s will: the family cabin in northern Wisconsin and a pair of hunting rifles that Corey refused to handle as a kid. That inheritance leads Corey and Nick to the cabin in Barron County during deer season with Nick insisting they go out for a fateful hunt together.
The cabin represents everything Corey loathed about his father and brings fresh reminders of the ugly similarities between Frank and Nick. Deep in the woods, as the couple chase a wounded deer at dusk, the men get into a heated argument, with Nick cruelly revealing a pair of secret betrayals and Corey forced into a panicked, life and death decision. “In any relationship we put up with a certain amount of things we don’t really like, and we may question that very little; but there comes a time when we each need to take a stand, to stop and question whether what we’re putting up with is worth it for our own self-respect.
“We may answer yes, we may answer no. In Panic River, Corey is awakened to the deceptive and controlling personalities around him and he chooses to say no,” comments Foster, who wrote this book in a three-year period in which he endured the deaths of his mother and a close friend, a setback in his professional career, depression in certain loved ones, the departure of his children for college, and the painful end of a 20+ year relationship and marriage.
Foster wrote what became the most climactic scene in the book—an argument in the woods that ends with one of the men getting shot—as part of a writing exercise for a master fiction class at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis in 2015. “My teacher and first writing mentor, award-winning author Peter Geye, pulled me aside after reading my short story and said, ‘What you’ve written here should be a novel. Put aside what you are working on now and write this story,’” says Foster.
So, he did. Foster says it took about three years to complete the book, which included additional mentoring work with Geye as well as with American Book Award-winning author and teacher Sandra Scofield, and England-born literary consultant Ian Graham Leask. The novel was picked up by Calumet Editions in late 2018.
In addition to exploring Corey’s volatile relationships with his father and with Nick, Foster also worked to develop Corey’s complicated, emotional relationship with his mom, Ginny, who is torn between allegiances to her husband and her son. Foster says that part of the story is based on troubles he has seen a few gay friends experience with their own families. “I think non-acceptance and a lack of understanding and support from loved ones is a common story for many people in the gay community,” he says. “Thankfully, that was not my own personal experience.”
Foster says his favorite part of the book is Corey’s evolving bond with his mother. “Corey’s connection with Ginny wasn’t patterned after the relationship with my own mother, but I wrote this during a period of time when my mom struggled with and eventually died from breast cancer. I took that unimaginable loss and poured my emotions into writing about the relationship between Corey and his mom.
“In the beginning of the story, Corey and Ginny are estranged, and it’s painful for them both. They each want to spend time together but can’t. By the end of the novel, with Frank now dead, they have a chance to forge a path toward healing. After this period of significant loss in my own life on so many fronts, the concept of rebirth and redemption resonated with me, quite strongly” says Foster.
In her review of Panic River, Catherine Dehdashti, author of the novel “Roseheart,” said, “Foster writes characters that are so real and lovably imperfect that you want to shove anyone who bullies them down the staircase of character Corey Fischer’s mother’s home—straight into the outhouse in her basement. The spark has been dwindling between Corey and his husband Nick, who has not been telling the truth. But in turning the pages I discovered that Corey and his family have more secrets of their own than there are deer in Barron County. And so begins the panic-filled hunt for the real meaning of Corey’s inheritance.”
Minnesota Book Award-winning author & poet, Emilio Degrazia said, "Elliott Foster has dared to be honest in his newest work 'Panic River.' Set in familiar Upper Mississippi River locales, his novel takes us to the secret interiors of familiar faces and their outdoor lives. His exploration of marriage, family, sexuality and gender identity is courageous, insightful, and compassionate, and his story has cliff-hanger qualities that make it a page turner."
Foster has begun work on Panic River’s yet to be titled sequel. In Book 2, he plans to address issues that were unresolved in the first book. Among them, Corey facing the consequences for a terrible crime he committed, the resolution of his relationship with Nick, a renewed relationship with his formerly estranged mother, and a new love interest.
Copies of Panic River are available for purchase through CalumetEditions.com, as well as Amazon.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elliott Foster is an emerging Minnesota writer with a passion for writing stories connected to the people and places of the upper Midwest. He grew up in the Twin Cities but spent his summer vacations camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, visiting his cousins in the hill country in the southeast corner of the state, and as often as possible at the family cabin in the Chippewa National Forest. These are the settings that have inspired many of his works. He currently lives in St. Paul, and travels throughout the Upper Midwest and beyond, always in search of the next story worth telling.
His previously published work includes Retrieving Isaac & Jason published by Calumet Editions in February 2019 and Whispering Pines - Tales From a Northwoods Cabin, released by Wise Ink Creative Publishing in April 2015. Elliott has also written numerous short stories, poems and essays, including works published in The Huffington Post, The Green Blade and in Southern California’s Daily Journal.
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