"[An] exceptional first novel…The Standard Grand is an important and deeply human contribution to the national conversation."
— Booklist (starred review)
"[A] promising debut…its vibrant style and twisting plot — at one point a character is mauled by a cougar — make for an appropriately complex snapshot of America’s relationship with the men and women who defend it."
— Publisher's Weekly
"In capturing the story of one deserter's search for love and redemption in an increasingly corporatized America, Nicorvo carves out something truly original."
— Library Journal (Great First Acts pick)
"[A] seamless blend of road-trip saga, love story, and critique of military contractors… An ambitious novel that effectively braids corporate greed, outdoorsy grit, and human connection."
My former sister-in-law deployed to Iraq in 2008 as part of the surge. Her MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 88M, motor transport operator. She drove trucks, one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army. About halfway through her difficult deployment, my brother got word she was having an affair with another soldier.
After fifteen months, her tour ended, and she returned stateside. Stationed a couple thousand miles from my brother, she cut off all communication. None of us could reach her — e-mailing, calling, texting — we had no idea what had become of her. In that absence of information, while my brother went out of his mind with grief and confusion, I did what writers do. I went into my mind. I worked to imagine what could’ve happened, and I did so partly out of a sense of guilt.
I did not love my sister-in-law. I didn’t even like her much. I tolerated her because my brother loved her. It’s sad — shameful really — but I’ve found it’s my lot. I fail as a person. I’m awkward, anxious, or angry in my dealings with family, friends, and strangers. In the face of my social shortcomings, which are legion, I try, after the fact, to right them by rewriting them. Sometimes I find my way toward empathy. Occasionally, when I write long and hard enough, running myself through the full wringer of human emotions, I reach something that approximates love.
While my brother’s marriage gradually dissolved, I spent the next five years in daily communion with a make-believe woman inspired by my sister-in-law. In the early going, she, the main character of my first novel, The Standard Grand, bore a resemblance, at least on the surface, to my sister-in-law. But the longer I spent with her, the more she asserted herself, becoming an individual. Divorced from me and my preconceptions, and sharing only a few cursory details — a military job, a home state — with the woman who spurred her into being, she assumes selfhood. She takes on a name, Specialist Antebellum Smith, and a roster of nicknames: Bellum, Ant, Bang Bang. She has a dog and a dirty mouth. With every nuance, every telltale detail, she comes more lovingly to life.
But what is love to a novelist? In Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of Love, she tells us: “When I set a glass prism on a windowsill and allow the sun to flood through it, a spectrum of colors dances on the floor. What we call ‘white’ is a rainbow of colored rays packed into a small space. The prism sets them free. Love is the white light of emotion.” When we love someone, what we feel for this person is the full range of affect. This, according to Ackerman, is love. Love is not an emotion. Love is all emotion. And there aren’t all that many. The dominant theory holds that there are merely six basics: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.
When I’m trying to create a major character, I’m attempting to evoke in myself — through the thought, action, and talk of that character — every last one of those six emotions. When I ultimately do — if I do — I come to love her. This is my consolation. Love, the life-giving breath. And if I do love her, dear reader, then maybe you will too.
— excerpted from an essay in
Poets & Writers Jan/Feb 2017
Standard (grand) news
- NPR: Between the Lines
- Host Zinta Aistars