Seats in Old Main’s Alumni Room were filled on Monday night when fiction author Robin Lippincott read selections from his novel In the Meantime. The novel spans a 70 year time period, starting in the early 1930s and ending just before Sept. 11, 2001. The novel is told in sections from several points of view and set in five different countries.
Visiting Professor of English Neela Vaswani introduced Lippincott as an old friend and colleague. After a glowing review of his work, Lippincott approached the lectern to modest applause and read poignant quotations for the audience to keep in mind while listening to his story.
The first section he read took place in Middle America and described the relationship between three young characters who grew up together in the 1930s. A theme of three friends was a common and important reoccurrence in the book, Lippincott noted. The friends, first as children and then as teenagers, were described with intricate detail in both looks and action.
Lippincott then skipped to a section in the book, set in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, after the atomic bomb was dropped. Written in first person, the protagonist describes what it was like to live through the blast and the destruction he witnessed as a result of the bombing. Vivid descriptions and images of women trapped under a fence, skin falling from bodies, and maimed survivors brought this section to life.
Though the protagonist survived to tell the tale, his two best friends died as a result of the bomb. He recalled the things he used to do with his friends, bringing the three-person relationship back into the story. He also named countless people he could remember who died, which made the desecration even more vivid. At times, the reality of such violence and pain was difficult to hear and grapple with.
A strength of this novel, particularly the section set in Japan, was its attention to the intimate details of everyday life and culture. Lippincott said he had to do several kinds of research before he felt comfortable writing that section. He read books and watched movies about Japan in addition to talking with Japanese friends.
“I did a lot of research. I felt I couldn’t not get it right,” said Lippincott. “I tried to be so immersed in it.”
In addition to In the Meantime, Lippincott is the author of two previous novels and a collection of short stories. His work has appeared in the Paris Review, the New York Times Book Review and the Literary Review. He teaches in the MFA writing program at Spalding University and at Harvard University.