W&N signs 'ambitious' American novel from Kathleen Alcott

W&N signs 'ambitious' American novel from Kathleen Alcott

W&N is publishing a novel by Kathleen Alcott, America Was Hard to Find, about a love affair between an astronaut and an anti-war activist.

Lettice Franklin, editorial director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to the book from Charles Buchan at Wylie Agency to publish in paperback on 16th January 2020.

Pitched as one for fans of Rachel Kushner or Michael Ondaatje, the book's editor praised the "beauty and emotion" of the prose while Alcott called it a story about identity and "the lies we tell in order to sleep".

The novel's plot begins in the Mojave Desert in 1957. Vincent Kahn is an astronaut in training, living with his wife in the desert. He will go on to be the first man to walk on the moon. Fay Fern is 19-years-old and working in a dive bar, having rejected her parents' wealth and conservatism. She will go on to become a violent activist and one of the FBI's most wanted people. According to W&N, the pair's brief but intense love affair will have repercussions that echo through the American century, intersecting with the space race, the rage against the Vietnam war, and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic.

Franklin said: "I have admired Kathleen’s writing for a long time – and am so happy to be welcoming her to the W&N list with this enthralling and ambitious novel. The novel is remarkable for the beauty and emotion of its prose, the heady power with which it conjures an atmosphere, whether it is the lonely terrains of the moon or the uncomfortable artifice of a Houston poolside. I have never read anything that so vividly brings to life an astronaut’s experience."

Alcott, who is based in Brooklyn but was born and raised in Northern California, added: "America Was Hard to Find is a story about identity. Having lost both leftist, boomer parents by my early twenties, I felt myself returning again and again to the rupture of the 20th century, the supposed divide along political lines. Though I had always imagined the kind of sacrifices my parents made were the province of dropouts and runaways, the more I read about the American space programme the more I found that a kind of zen depersonalisation was necessary on either side of the political fault line: that members of the extreme right and the extreme left, the military industrial complex, as well as the radical dissenters, were equally at risk of losing a sense of self in the name of their message."

Alcott published Infinite Home with The Borough Press and The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets with Other Press, while her short fiction, criticism, and essays have appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Guardian and the New Yorker. In 2017, her short story "Reputation Management" was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Award and in 2019 her short story "Natural Light" was longlisted for the same award.