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Coming September 2011 from Texas Christian University Press
The Story: It’s 2003 with the country embroiled in a war in Iraq. Nineteen-year-old Jason Sanborn feels lost. He dropped out of high school just two months shy of graduation, and now his former classmates are off to college, the military, or minimum-wage jobs. The only pressing date on his calendar is an upcoming appearance in court on an assault charge, and when his over-achieving, beloved girlfriend, Lisa, departs for UT Austin to study premed, Jason can hardly abide his hometown of Mesquite. When his mother died two years back, his father Burl, fifteen years sober, fell off the wagon briefly, but he has since met a new wife, Lily, in AA. Lily brings a daughter into the house: Emily, an eleven-year-old know-it-all whose existence irritates Jason. Three days before Jason’s court date, he gets a “we can still be friends” letter from Lisa. Heartbroken and determined to convince Lisa of his worth, Jason decides to hitchhike to Austin. Since Emily also hates the new family circle, she is desperate to rejoin her father, a UT professor, so she demands to accompany Jason on his mission. When Burl and Lily find their children missing, Lily puts out an Amber Alert for Emily, accusing Jason of abducting her daughter. The frantic search that ensues threatens to destroy the tentative household that Burl and Lily have just begun to establish, and the end of the journey brings surprises for both the children and their parents.
“Steplings is a tender and deeply touching story that deftly unwinds the tale of an endearing young man’s coming-of-age and first love with such pitch-perfect dialogue and engrossing plot that its characters leap off of the page and into your heart. Steplings is a novel as timeless as it is unforgettable.” ~Sarah Bird, author of How Perfect Is That, The Yokota Officers’ Club, and The Gap Year.
“With Steplings, Charlie Smith has flawlessly captured the experience of being young, misunderstood, and full of longing. He manages to craft a tale that is at once gorgeously heartbreaking and a page-turning adventure. His ear for dialogue and lyrical prose are irresistible, as are his complex, loveable Jason and Emily—these aren’t characters in a novel, they’re people I know. Smith has accomplished that rarest of literary feats: to leave the reader on the final page equal parts exhilarated at having finished a gripping work of fiction, and forlorn at not being able to spend more time in the world he crafted.” ~Melissa Kirsch, author of The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything.
“Launched with scenes and exchanges of dialogue that are laugh-out-loud funny, C.W. Smith’s Steplings maintains the rare wit but sobers up in a hurry. A nineteen-year-old boy, grieving over a first love’s broken heart, and his eleven-year-old stepsister, yearning for her prior home and family, take off hitchhiking in the middle of the night and share an adventure that is hair-raising, tender, and wise. Here is an accomplished novelist at the top of his game.” ~Jan Reid, author of Comanche Sundown and The Bullet Meant for Me.
Mary Powell, author Auslander and Galveston Rose, describes Smith’s prose as “rich and sophisticated, yet accessible, and the dialogue is right on….Though Jason and Emily grapple with universal teen issues, their troubles feel like uncharted territory when expressed through pitch-perfect narrative voices. Steplings is a friendly, hopeful, humorous, and thoughtful book about growing up,” said Powell, though “watching Jason self-destruct is akin to watching someone in a horror film go down into the basement.”
Kate Lehrer, author of Confessions of a Bigamist, says that Steplings “touches our hearts with the struggles and failures that are a part of finding our way, whatever our age. With both sensitivity and a strong narrative thrust, the book portrays the tugs between generations, couples, and, most especially those conflicts within ourselves as we come into adulthood, which often takes an entire lifetime. C.W. Smith’s deftly written book is compelling on many levels.”
Lee K. Abbott, author of the short-story collections Dreams of Distant Lives, Living After Midnight, and All Things, All at Once has written, “Lordy, Steplings is a novel you read with increasing awe and dread, for C. W. Smith, page by page by artful page, is laying bare the illusions by which the American family sustains–and deceives–itself. In the matters of romantic love, marriage, community, school, class, and work, we’re in peril, not least from our benighted yearnings for grace and harmony. Mr. Smith has used his great compassion and his enviable gifts as a storyteller without peer to detail what so animated Updike in the Rabbit series of novels: our innocence and our sentimentality for what never was. You won’t read a more achingly beautiful book this season.”
C.W. SMITH’S novels are Thin Men of Haddam, Country Music, The Vestal Virgin Room, Buffalo Nickel, Hunter’s Trap, Understanding Women, Gabriel’s Eye and Purple Hearts. He has also authored a memoir, Uncle Dad. His short stories have appeared in The Southwest Review, descant, Mademoiselle, Cimarron Review, American Short Fiction, American Literary Review, Sunstone Review, The Missouri Review, Carolina Quarterly, Quartet and in his story collection, Letters From the Horse Latitudes. Smith is a Dedman Family Distinguished Professor at Southern Methodist University. He belongs to PEN American Center, The Author’s Guild, and the Texas Institute of Letters. He was a Dobie-Paisano Fellow at the University of Texas and has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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