There’s an old maxim that maintains an artist must suffer for her art. If that’s true, Susan Brace Lovell has a lot to write about.
Her recently published book, “The Sandpiper,” is informed by the suffering of growing up in a family plagued with the disease of alcoholism. Though fictional, much of the book’s material is drawn from Lovell’s real life experiences.
Lovell, who has written several unpublished novels prior to this work, says the book is an attempt to establish open discussions about alcoholism.
“Alcoholism has been part of my environment for as long as I can remember,” Lovell said. “Alcoholism has been in my environment since I was born in Greenville in 1938. Nobody called it that back then and surely not (my) family.”
When Lovell was only seven, her mother moved to California. It was the last time the two would live together. Lovell’s daughters, now grown and with five graduate degrees between them, also have had their problems with the bottle and are both in recovery programs.
All of these things and more have given Lovell the ability to write about the topic with authority and a wisdom evinced only by one who has been on the inside of the issue, has lived it daily.
“This book it totally fiction,” Lovell said. “(The) characters are all in my head and now the readers’ heads, but what the disease does to a family does come from experience. If I have a mission in this it’s to get our world to understand and treat alcoholism (and) addiction not as a shame/sin/moral failing but for just what it is: A disease.”
Lovell describes alcoholism is an allergy to alcohol, much as some people are allergic to shellfish or pollen.
“My mother’s and our daughters’ brains can’t process alcohol,” Lovell said. “It’s that simple.”
Though some passages of the book are unrelentingly grim, the overall message is one of hope. Lovell, who describes herself as a “full-blooded optimist” simply won’t allow for failure and unhappy endings.
The book is about good people making hard choices and eventually, doing the right thing.
“I can’t help believing good things will happen,” Lovell said, noting that the book has its share of whimsical moments. “There has to be some (humor) because we can’t do life without it.”
According to Lovell, the book took a while to complete. While she describes herself as a “fast writer,” she admits her “real life” — husband, daughters, grandchildren and consulting job with the Wege Foundation — comes first
Writing fiction, she says, is a luxury for those moments when she has some extra time on her hands. So it might be some time before readers can expect her next book, “A Rainbow in the Sky,” which picks up the story four years after “The Sandpiper” ends.
Lovell’s book is available at Robbins Book List in downtown Greenville, where she has a book signing scheduled for Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Kevin Powell, who manages Robbins Book List, describes the book as “Highly informative, sometimes entertaining, and brutally honest.
“‘The Sandpiper’ is going to hopefully open the eyes and hearts of those who don’t understand what addiction really is; a disease,” Powell said. “Close family and best friends often don’t realize the horrible torture an addict lives with every day. This book will change that.”
“The Sandpiper” also is available at Schuler’s Books in Grand Rapids and from Amazon in both paperback and eBook formats.