Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018: Maximum Shelf: The Shortest Way Home

Dutton Books: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

Dutton Books: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

Dutton Books: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

The Shortest Way Home

by Miriam Parker

Hannah Greene has her life all planned out--or thinks she does. She's landed a dream job right out of business school, and is envisioning a high-powered New York City future with her boyfriend, Ethan. But a weekend trip to Sonoma County right before graduation changes everything. When Hannah falls in love with Bellosguardo, a small local winery, she talks her way into a marketing job there, giving up her hard-won position at Goldman Sachs and the plans she and Ethan have laid. Despite the winery's appeal, Hannah's 180-degree turn isn't without its stomach-flipping bumps and surprising curves. Miriam Parker's debut novel, The Shortest Way Home, follows Hannah's journey as she struggles to navigate her new path despite the weight of everyone else's expectations (and her own).

Parker paints her setting perfectly: the neat rows of vines, with rosebushes planted at the ends; the spacious tasting room with a high-beamed ceiling; the winery's resident dog, Tannin; and Felipe, a friendly Chilean sommelier. But although the setting is paradise, Bellosguardo's future may be in jeopardy. The owners, a married couple, have hit a rough patch in their relationship and their business, and their only son, William, is moving to New York to pursue his filmmaking dreams.

Gradually, Hannah settles into her new life, making friends with the taciturn winery owner, Everett; his wife and co-owner, Linda, who handles distribution and ordering; and several local personalities, including Celeste, a blonde whirlwind who becomes Hannah's source of local gossip and connections. Long days at the winery, putting her freshly minted business degree to work, are punctuated by wine tastings, trips with Linda to visit clients (and attempts to increase their orders) and plans for a big party at the winery, complete with local musicians and plenty of Bellosguardo's best bottles.

Meanwhile, Hannah struggles to sort out her feelings for Ethan and decide whether she really wants the future they had dreamed of together. She also wonders what her family back in Iowa--her widowed mother, her happily married brother and his children--are making of her out-of-the-blue decision. While Hannah has always longed for a more exciting life than her mother had, she worries that she's disappointing her family by making choices so different from theirs.

Parker tells her story in Hannah's voice, sharing both her protagonist's delight at the beauty of Sonoma County (and her picture-perfect cottage on the vineyard's grounds), and her anxiety over having made a rash decision that could upend her life. While she doesn't regret giving up the Goldman job, and is increasingly convinced that Ethan wasn't the right guy for her, Hannah second-guesses her new career path at every turn. Can she make a success of the winery? Will this new place, far from everything she knows, eventually become home? And can she navigate the tricky web of relationships at Bellosguardo, especially the chilly dynamic between Linda and Everett?

Parker's characters are flawed but likable, especially Hannah, whose zeal for her newfound career threatens to overwhelm her colleagues at times. But with a combination of luck, enthusiasm and marketing savvy, she pulls off a successful party and begins to take the winery's production and visibility up a notch. Meanwhile, she knows she can't hide from the consequences of her decision forever. Whether it's finally sorting things out with Ethan or calling her mother (bracing for disappointment in both cases), Hannah must find the courage to own the twisty, unconventional path she has chosen for herself. While it's tempting to dive straight into a new relationship, she also knows she needs to figure some things out for herself before she can give her full attention to another person.

Hannah isn’t the only one struggling with life and love. Linda is dealing with long-held resentments toward her husband, both professional and personal. Felipe misses his family back in Chile, though he enjoys his work with the vines. William tries to make a go of writing and shooting films in New York, but feels drawn back to his family's winery (and, increasingly, to Hannah). Even Everett, a man not given to dealing with his emotions, must face up to some new realities in his work and his marriage. Each of the main characters is on his or her own meandering, entirely relatable journey, perfectly evoking the James Joyce lines that inspired the book's title: "Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home."

Packed with good books, California sunshine and glass after glass of local wine, Parker's debut is a sweet, funny, charming novel of a woman daring to upend expectations (her own and everyone else's) to make her own way. Readers will toast Hannah's roundabout journey and perhaps be inspired to take a detour or two of their own. --Katie Noah Gibson

Dutton, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781524741860, July 31, 2018

Dutton Books: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

Miriam Parker: Taking the Long Way Home

photo: Shannon Carpenter

Miriam Parker is the associate publisher of Ecco. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington and a BA in English from Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn with her spaniel, Leopold Bloom. The Shortest Way Home (Dutton, July 31) is her first novel.

Tell us about the inspiration for The Shortest Way Home.

In a lot of ways, this book is a dream for me. I love reading, I love wine, I love travel. This was a book I wrote in the mornings, on vacation and on the weekends away from my job. I decided I was going to take all the things I loved and write a book about them.

Are you a wine enthusiast? Have you spent time in Sonoma, where the book is set?

I've always loved wine. I love California, and I've been to Sonoma a number of times. The first time was when I was finishing graduate school and at a crossroads in my life. I had considered "quitting my life" and moving to California. I stayed in downtown Sonoma, found a winery and joined their wine club. I didn't stay there: I ended up coming back to New York and working in publishing. But the winery had lodged in my brain, and I kept mentally going back there. It's sort of the path not taken.

Did you go back to Sonoma once you started writing the book?

Yes! On that first trip, I wasn't thinking about writing a book set there. I was traveling and having a good time. But I did go back, and I took my dog and stayed in northern Sonoma County. In the mornings I would write, and in the afternoons I would drive around with the dog and interview people at wineries. I highly recommend going on vacation with your dog!

I loved talking to people at the wineries. You learn the most amazing little details! For example: I learned that wineries plant roses at the end of their rows, because they're much more sensitive than vines. If there's any disease or blight around, the roses will show it before the vines, which gives the vineyard owner a heads up.

I also loved learning about terroir. Grapes take on the flavor of what's planted in the ground around them, so if there's rosemary, for example, they might have a hint of that. But they also take on the flavor of what was planted in the ground before they were: vegetables or other herbs. I thought it was fascinating that grapes take on both the history and the current flavor of the land.

The story includes references to many other books. Your day job is in publishing--do you think that affected the main character and storyline?

I hope that flavor of my life does come through. I am first and foremost a reader, and a lover of books and authors. So having a main character who loves to read, who was inspired by a librarian to figure out her life, was important for me. I wanted to pepper the story with books I love. But writing it was also an escape from my publishing job, because it's a totally different mindset: creating a book as opposed to publishing a book. They are complementary, but they use two different parts of your brain.

The Shortest Way Home is mainly Hannah's story, but several other characters are also on their own journeys to figuring out what they really want.

Telling a story of people who are at different stages in their lives, trying to figure out what they want, felt really important to me. I spent a lot of my 20s being disappointed that life wasn't lining up like it was "supposed to." I was making mistakes, trying things, and everything didn't feel like the story I'd seen in the movies or been taught to expect. And then I got into my 30s and realized that things don't always line up: you have to give them space to happen. I think if I could have told my 21-year-old or even my 30-year-old self that, I would have appreciated it.

Several of the characters--not just Hannah--make mistakes along the way.

Yes. A lot of the characters are not doing the right thing at all times. But everyone is trying their best. You have to think of people as fully human. No one is fully a villain or fully a hero. Everyone in this book is looking for their own perfect happiness, or the home they dreamt of. They all find some peace by the end.

Part of finding a home can be the people, and Hannah definitely finds her people at the winery.

Hannah's relationship with the winery people--the owners, the sommelier, several locals--is sort of a family she chooses. I think knowing a group of people with different ages and life histories makes life so much richer.

That also feeds into Hannah’s relationship with her family of origin, especially her mother.

She struggles with it, but yes, she has to accept her mom for who she is and also accept herself. That's the journey of everyone in this book: accepting themselves for who they are, instead of who they thought they were. For Hannah, choosing herself over anyone else--her family, or a romantic partner--is really important. You have to know yourself before you can really be good with someone else.

Parker and Leo.

Tell us about the title--The Shortest Way Home is drawn from a quote by James Joyce?

The working title was The Tasting Room, which felt a bit too reductive, even though that's where it starts. But then I was listening to NPR and heard a band that had named an album after a James Joyce quote. I thought, "I’m jealous!" I've always loved Joyce: Ulysses has meant a lot to me, and my dog is named Leopold Bloom. And when I came across this quote, I thought: Yes. That's what this book is. Hannah takes the long way around to find her home.

As a marketer and publisher, you spend your days among books. How does it feel to be on the other side, as a debut author?

It's terrifying! I understand the anxieties that authors express much more intimately now. Having your book go out into the world, having people you know read it... it's scary! When it started popping up in people's mailboxes, I felt a lot of anxiety.

It's so hard to see your own work for what it is as a writer. I think I'm a pretty typical author: I'm trying to keep my publishing knowledge out of the process and do this as a debut author. I'm not sure my editor would agree, but I'm really trying to learn and enjoy the process.

The most important question: What kind of wine pairs well with The Shortest Way Home?

I think it pairs perfectly with a glass of sparkling rosé on the back patio! Ideally with a nice herbed goat cheese and rosemary crackers. --Katie Noah Gibson

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