The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (A.B. ’90)

Nicholas Petrie didn’t follow the typical path to become a writer. He didn’t get a bachelor’s in English; his degrees came from American Culture and the Residential College (RC). Also unlike most aspiring writers, his first job after graduation wasn’t working with words—instead, he channeled his creativity into working with his hands. “I fell in love with home renovation because it was just plain fun to make stuff, to solve physical problems in a creative way,” he says, “and it seemed somehow important to live in the physical world instead of just the one I was inventing in my head.” He eventually got his MFA at the University of Washington while running a remodeling business.

"Petrie still manages to keep a foot in both worlds, writing early in the morning, through lunch, and whenever his time, now running a home inspection company, allows. It took a lot of effort, and some time before it was rewarded. “I wrote three books before Putnam agreed to publish my fourth.”

The fourth, The Drifter, was published in January, and was inspired by clients he met who were coming home from war at the height of the recession. Petrie didn’t serve in the military, but his questions led to conversations that opened his eyes. “I saw a vast disconnect between the lives of the men and women we asked to fight for us, and the lives of those who had profited so handsomely creating the conditions of the economic crash.” The book and its characters came out of exploring that separation.

Petrie says it’s gratifying to see The Drifter in print and garnering nice reviews, but the highest compliments come from veterans who find him at readings or on Facebook and say he got it right.

His success comes from persistence, a trait he says he shares with his parents. He also credits the passion and stubbornness he shares—along with his alma mater—with his mom, Lucia Petrie (A.B. ’62), and his liberal arts education. “I learned how to pursue my interests from many directions, a process that still serves me well. The liberal arts taught me to think, to read and write, and to analyze and solve intellectual problems,” he says. “Michigan educated my mother and me for a life, not just a job.”

In October, Petrie will return to the RC for a short stint as a visiting writer. “I’m definitely looking forward to it,” he says. “I got quite a lot from talking to published writers when I was in college, so I’m happy to close that circle.”

Other Recent Books from LSA Authors

Desert Boys by Chris McCormick (M.F.A. ’14)

The 12 connected, coming-of-age stories in this book all focus on Daley Kushner. Moving back and forth through time, these stories capture Kushner—known to his friends as Kush—as he grows up in a small town near the Mojave Desert and becomes a journalist in San Francisco. Each story reveals bits and pieces of Kush and the people in his life, developing details from some stories into fuller portraits in others.

Photo by Jenna Meacham

A Perfect Life by Eileen Pollack

Coming on the heels of her celebrated nonfiction book The Only Woman in the Room, Professor of English Eileen Pollack’s new novel also takes women and science as its subject. A young researcher is obsessed with finding the genetic marker for Valentine’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that killed her mother. She and her sister could be genetic carriers; each has a 50 percent chance of developing the disease. When she falls in love with a man who might also be a carrier, her research and life are both affected by the illness that threatens their families.

Photo by Michele McDonald

Estranger by Erik Anderson (A.B. ’00)

Not quite memoir, not quite fiction, not quite essay, Estranger takes—among other things—fatherhood, family, and film as its subjects. Everything the narrator encounters can be read as an illuminating text to be explored, savored, and used to help him better understand himself and his relationships with those around him.

Images courtesy of Erik Anderson

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

In Assistant Professor of English Claire Vaye Watkins’s novel, drought has transformed Southern California into a desolately surreal landscape. The snowpack is gone, the aquifers are drained, and most of the people have been evacuated to internment camps. Those who escaped subsist on whatever they can loot or scavenge from earlier inhabitants’ extravagant lives. One couple has found a way to live in this place, and when they adopt a mysterious child they take on the dangerous, formidable world and its people to search for something better.

Read Our Interview with Claire Vaye Watkins

Photo by Heike Steinweg

Ball Don't Lie by Yago Colás

Yago Colás is a professor of comparative literature and a professor in the Residential College whose academic background lies in studying fiction and narrative in relation to their social contexts. In this book, he looks critically at the narratives that surround basketball, illuminating the assumptions and prejudices behind them. From the invention of the game all the way up to the modern NBA, Colas examines how we talk about basketball’s legendary players and its most popular myths, and the subtle ways our discourse has both social and political ramifications.

Books Coming This Fall from LSA Authors

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies (September 6)
More than a century of American history seen through generations of Chinese immigrants.

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio (October 4)
An exiled Cuban family tries to build a new life even as their old one calls them back.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (October 11)
Three adults are bound by a secret and haunted by the paths not taken.

Top image by Troye Fox. Feature illustration by Julia Lubas.