Alyson Richman is an international bestselling novelist with local roots. She spoke about her latest novel, The Secret of Clouds, at Book Revue on Friday night.
“I’m thrilled to be back at Book Revue; it truly is my community book store,” Richman said in an interview before the evening’s talkback and signing. In fact, when moving out of New York City 15 years ago, Richman visited Book Revue and told her husband, “If they have my books on the shelf, then it’s a sign we’re meant to live here.” One of her novels was in fact among Book Revue’s stacks, and Richman has been a Huntington resident ever since. “Book Revue has continued to be such a special place for us,” Richman said. “When my children were young we came here to see children’s authors, and as they’ve grown I’ve taken them to see authors I admire. Book Revue is an epicenter of culture and literacy, and I’m just thrilled to be here tonight.”
The location of the evening’s talk was especially fitting, as The Secret of Clouds is Richman’s first novel to take place on Long Island.
“I didn’t set out to write a book about Long Island. I kind of feel this book found me,” Richman said. In August of 2016, Richman was immersed in the mounting tension within both the community and the United States as the upcoming presidential election swarmed news cycles and people’s thoughts. That same summer, Richman discovered a project that a teacher friend pursued with her third-grade classes every year: the students write letters to the 18-year-old selves. The teacher holds onto these letters for a decade, and mails them out the week the students are to graduate high school. “I was sort of blown away,” Richman said. “Not only by the foresight of this teacher to capture what their hopes and dreams are at that moment in time, but also by her dedication.”
Both the air of unrest and her friend’s ambitious project spoke to Richman, andThe Secret of Clouds started to take shape from there. “I focused on one particular student and what happened to his letter,” Richman said. “I wanted to explore the good that connects us to each other and within our own community, regardless of political persuasion.”
The Secret of Clouds draws together the flashback narrative of a couple living through the uncertainty, silence, and aftermath of Chernobyl, and the contemporary stories of the couple’s son Yuri, born with a rare health condition, and the passionate and dedicated teacher who tutors him.
“To me, this is a story about a teacher and her student,” Richman said. “I wanted to highlight how educators are doing things every day to connect to their students, and that students are leaving a permanent fingerprint on their teachers as well.”
Though it’s a departure from her previous novels’ larger emphasis on historical fiction, Richman believes it will reach her previous readers, as well as new ones. “The Secret of Clouds has universal themes of friendship, hope, and legacy,” Richman said. “When people read this novel, I want them to think about all the people in their lives that have left a permanent fingerprint on their heart.”
If she were to try her own hand at writing a letter to her future self, Richman would say, “I hope you’ve continued to lead a creative life and you’ve kept your rudder on course to make sure you’re doing good in the world. And I hope you always find joy.”
To her past self, Richman has just one word of advice: “Believe.”
For more information about The Secret of Clouds and Alyson Richman’s other novels, visit her website.