Literary preview: Author relishes out-of-place characters


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Allison Amend, the author of two novels and a collection of short stories, is interested in "people who are out of place for whatever reason."

That's a good description of Gabriel, a Spanish artist living in Paris and the protagonist of her new book, "A Nearly Perfect Copy."

"He can't fit in. He's an expatriate, an artist who is talented but not successful. He's not in full command of the language. He's a little removed from what's happening. He's struggling," the author said during a telephone interview from her home in New York's West Village.

Allison Amend

Where: Writers LIVE series at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland, first-floor quiet reading room.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by book signing.

Admission: Free, but registration required at pittsburghlectures.org or 412-622-8866.

The novel shows what motivates people to forge great works of art, an increasingly prevalent crime.

"People are cheering on the forgers but also appalled at the amount of forgeries that are accepted as real," Ms. Amend said.

The author will give a talk and do a reading at 6 p.m. Thursday as part of the Writers LIVE series. She will appear in the quiet reading room on the first floor of the main Carnegie Library in Oakland. A book signing will follow.

"A Nearly Perfect Copy" opens during a meeting of department heads at Tinsley's, an auction house where Greer Tinsley, the chief executive officer, speaks in an affected Continental accent derisively called "international queen." His relative, Elmira Tinsley, is trudging through each workday while grieving the death of her young son. That loss makes it nearly impossible for her to function or fit into the hyper-competitive art world.

"She just can't participate in regular society," Ms. Amend said.

Her earlier novel, "Stations West," explored a similar theme because it focused on four generations of Jewish immigrants who landed in Oklahoma during the 19th century.

Like a lot of writers, the 39-year-old author enjoys doing research because it's fun, fascinating and postpones the agony of writing.

"I know about the chemistry of forging art, which didn't actually make it into the book," she said, adding that she also learned a great deal about cloning animals, especially dogs.

Ms. Amend is familiar with Pittsburgh because she taught fiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh in 2010-11 and played in a field hockey league here. She's a Midwesterner who grew up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago before that area became gentrified.

"When my parents moved in, it was sort of the frontier. There was a lot of gang activity and there was a knifing in the alley the weekend they moved in," the author recalled.

Ms. Amend attended Chicago Cubs games with her parents and graduated from Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park. Then it was on to Stanford, followed by stops in France and Spain. She attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where her classmates included ZZ Packer, Curtis Sittenfeld and Adam Haslett.

She enjoys using Skype to make virtual visits with book clubs, whose members often want to discuss her characters' actions and motivations. When she isn't writing, she teaches at Lehman College in the Bronx. Part of the City University of New York system, it was founded in the 1960s. The nontraditional students are predominantly Dominicans and African-Americans, she said.

Ms. Amend is working on her next novel, which is about World War II spies working in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.

On the weekends, she continues to tour museums with two of her friends. The trio decided to tour on bikes all of the 111 museums in New York's five boroughs. So far, one of her favorites has been a tattoo museum on Staten Island. "It gives you something to do every weekend."

books

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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