UConn English professor and author Susanne Davis gave a reading Thursday night from her short story collection “The Appointed Hour,” which focuses on rural life in Connecticut and the struggles of a family over several generations. The reading took place at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Storrs Center. Davis read from several of her short tales: “The Ancestor’s Voice,” “John Mason’s Eye,” “Merciful Like the Father” and the title story “The Appointed Hour.”
Davis describes the 2017 short story collection as portraying themes of forgiveness, living off the land and journeys among the often-forgotten population of rural residents.
Davis describes the creation of her work as a journey as well, as she wrote the collection over 10 years. During her reading she discussed looking for a direction as she was writing, saying that “very often, it’s my characters who show me [the way].”
The passages which Davis selected to read gave little snippets of the lives of seemingly very different characters. In “The Ancestor’s Voice,” a woman travels east to Connecticut, and her struggles to live off the land pass on through the generations.
“John Mason’s Eye” told the tale of two brothers and their conflicts. In the passage Davis read, John, the older brother, loses an eye due to an arrow his younger brother Harold fired, while John was setting up a target. The accident creates a rift between the brothers, and it turns out that the incident might not have been an accident.
The title story depicts the emotions of a Connecticut community that is baffled by a series of young girls’ disappearances before learning that there is a serial killer on the loose. When the murderer is apprehended, legal justice is doled out, but the grief and anger surrounding the killings comes back to haunt the town in “Merciful Like the Father.”
Coming from six generations of Connecticut dairy farmers herself, Davis portrays the struggles of rural people in “The Appointed Hour.” At the conclusion of her reading, she explained how these everyday people all face the same challenges living off the land and come together to support one another.
“As a community they show their love,” Davis said.
After her reading, Davis took questions from the audience. When asked what compelled her to continue to write her book over 10 years, Davis responded “stubbornness.”
“But after that, the characters were presenting themselves to me,” Davis continued. She talked about how she thought about sending the stories to magazines but decided against it when she realized the stories had more to say when told together.
The next audience member asked if Davis originally planned for all of the characters’ stories to interweave. Davis explained that her agent realized she was telling the story of a place, and encouraged her to write about this place through the lives of different people. Since many of the characters in the collection are descended from the same ancestor, Davis thought this was a good way to link the stories together.
“And the ancestor, as it turns out, her voice did not leave me,” Davis said of writing the collection.
Student response to Susanne Davis’s reading was positive.
Second-semester studio art major Miranda Wright expressed her enjoyment of the reading.
“I loved it. I think that her writing style is very poetic and charming. I just found myself really getting into the story…. I really felt connected and involved with the story,” Wrightsaid.
Eighth-semester English major Maddy Kobar, who is a student in one of Davis’ creative writing classes this semester, described what it was like to go to her professor’s reading.
“I’m just really surprised in a way cause I’ve actually never read anything by her or anything, but it was really good,” Kobar said. “It’s just really interesting because she was writing about Connecticut, so I feel like it’s very, you know, relevant to us…. It’s amazing what’s around us and it can be so relevant.”
Stephanie Santillo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.