Open book with Claire McMillan

Novelist Claire McMillan knows a thing or two about Gilded Age drama. As a 2016 Edith Wharton Writer-in-Residence who now serves on The Mount's board of trustees, McMillan has penned two novels. Her first, "Gilded Age," is a modern retelling of Wharton's "The House of Mirth" set in contemporary Cleveland. Her newest work, "The Necklace," tells the story of a young woman who inherits a family heirloom and some family secrets along with it. McMillan will be stopping by The Mount in Lenox from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, to discuss her new book at Wharton's legacy. (The literary roundtable is $10 to attend, free for Mount members.) McMillan gave us a glimpse into her life as a reader, and we made her do the unthinkable: choose a favorite among Wharton's work.

Your newest book "The Necklace," is about a young woman who inherits a mysterious Indian necklace and some family secrets along with it. What other book with simmering family relationships can't you get enough of?

A: As far as simmering family relationships, John Cheever's masterpiece story, "Goodbye, My Brother," is the ne plus ultra for me. Recently, I've enjoyed the family tensions in "The Unfortunates" by Sophie McManus and "Bittersweet" by Miranda Beverly Whittemore.

Q: Speaking of a Jazz Age young woman, who is your favorite fictional heroine? And who is your favorite antihero or villain?

A: Who can surpass Daisy Buchanan as the ultimate Jazz Age heroine? But, for heroines in general, I've always loved Anne Elliot in "Persuasion" who knows that she's made a wrong choice and has to live with the consequences. It's the Jane Austen for when you're old enough to have made some mistakes. My favorite antihero is Henry Winter from "The Secret History," who murders his best friend and yet you still want to be included in his tight-knit classics study group. I also enjoy Tom Ripley from the Patricia Highsmith novels. He can justify anything he does. A great female antihero is Marie in "Bad Marie" by Marcy Dermansky. She's an indulgent and sloppy nanny and despite bad actions remains likeable.

Q; What books are currently on your nightstand?

A: "The Kite and the String," Alice Mattison. Alice was my professor at Bennington and her most recent book about writing is an amazing solace and captures her wise voice and sage advice as if she's speaking directly to you.

"`Round Midnight," Laura McBride. McBride writes about the real-life side of Vegas that tourists rarely see and she weaves together different lives and then shows you how they impact each other. I just finished reading her first novel, "We Are Called to Rise" and went right out to pick up this new one.

"The Hearing Trumpet," Leonara Carrington. I've recently become fascinated with the Surrealist movement. Leonara Carrington was a painter and novelist who was a lover of Max Ernst and lived most of her life as an ex-pat in Mexico City. "The Hearing Trumpet" is her most well-known novel about an old crone and her trippy adventures.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe," C.S. Lewis. The scene with Aslan's death was the first time a book made me cry, or that might have been when the dogs die in "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. Animal death still gets me.

Q: What book do you love that people who know you would be most surprised by?

A: I like to read a smattering of romance. I've found that everyone has a genre they're inherently drawn to, be it thrillers or mystery or sci-fi. I really enjoy all of Christina Lauren's books because the dialogue is so modern and zingy.

Q: What book most recently kept you up at night?

A: "Be My Wolff," Emma Richler. This book is so big R romantic, in the sense of its rebellious heart, but it is a romance, too. Richler writes beautifully and the story is part fairy tale, part boxing story, and part adventure through time. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down.

Q: What kind of reader are you? Paper, electronic? Do you sneak a peak at the last page of a thriller?

A: I like to read physical books, but sometimes I read romance on the kindle app on my phone when I'm in the pick-up line at school or on a plane.

Q: What book should everyone read once in their lifetime?

A; "Men Explain Things to Me" by Rebecca Solnit and "We Should All be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Q: What's your favorite work by Edith Wharton?

A: What a brutal question! I love Edith (we are on a first-name basis) so much that I wrote a modern retelling of "The House of Mirth" and set it in Cleveland, which was my first book, "Gilded Age." Most recently, I reread "The Mother's Recompense" and thought someone should update that plot about a mother and daughter involved with the same man. But I'd have to say that "The Age of Innocence" remains my favorite even though the ending in Paris sometimes leaves me in tears over the tragic romance of it all and sometimes makes me want to throw the book across the room at the thwarted happiness. Then again, thwarted happiness is an Edith specialty. We all know that.


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