By Emily F. Popek The Daily Star
---- — For author Callie Wright, Cooperstown is the place that will always feel like home — even though, when she first arrived in the village more than 20 years ago, it was just the opposite.
“We moved (to Cooperstown) from Texas when I was young, and we sounded every bit the part,” Wright, a 1996 graduate of Cooperstown High School, explained in a recent phone interview.
“The first day of school, I remember standing up in front of the class, and they would feed me words to repeat in my Texas accent,” Wright recalled. “All I wanted to do is fit in.”
Fast-forward a few years to an adolescent Wright hearing about a 1962 novel titled “The Sex Cure.” Set in a thinly veiled Cooperstown, with a cast of characters whose names closely resembled a number of prominent real-life citizens of the village, the book was a scandal in its time, and the author, who had written under a pen name, was quickly outed, harassed and even sued.
“It wasn’t the book, so much as the story of the author daring to write this book, that fascinated me,” Wright explained. “She was immediately run out of town, and I couldn’t understand why someone would do that. Why, once you’re in, would you risk being run out.”
That teenage wonderment Wright felt years earlier planted the seeds of her debut novel, “Love All,” published in July by Henry Holt.
The novel has received positive reviews from Oprah.com, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle, with award-winning novelist Ann Beattie calling it a “stirring, well-wrought debut,” and noting that Wright “has no trouble getting under the skin of her all too human characters, treating young and old, male and female, with a master storyteller’s equality of insight.”
Set in Cooperstown during the mid-1990s, “Love All” tells the story of a family whose members are each struggling with secrets. Chapters in the book alternate between the points of view of each, from teenage Julia to her grandfather Bob, whose own secrets were once in danger of being revealed by “The Sex Cure.”
The real-life 1962 novel plays a role in Wright’s fictional narrative, but Wright says it’s less about who’s who, and more about what it all means.
“(’The Sex Cure’) is set in a fictional town based on Cooperstown, using close-to-real names of people, to depict a very unreal analogy of what it was like to live in Cooperstown,” Wright explained. “So I did the corollary; I wrote about a fictional family in a very real town, being very true to what it was like to live in Cooperstown at that time.”
Just as Cooperstown residents once buzzed over who was who in “The Sex Cure,” Wright acknowledges that her own book may prompt readers to draw real-life parallels.
“I was the same age as Julia, and I did play on the Cooperstown tennis team, and had two best guy friends on the team,” Wright said, listing off features she shares with her character, “but I don’t think of Julia as me at all.”
Nevertheless, Wright will play off some of those similarities when she visits Cooperstown, giving a reading at the Cooperstown Country Club, which figures prominently in her narrative.
“There’s a lot of Teddy and Julia playing tennis at the country club, so I think it will be neat,” Wright explained, noting that her own real-life brother will be there as well to moderate a question-and-answer session on July 24. (She will also read from and sign copies of her book at Augur’s Corner Book Store at 7 p.m. July 23.)
The country club in Wright’s novel is the spitting image of the real thing, and that’s by design, Wright says. As fictional as her characters are, the author said she has taken pains to ensure that the world they inhabit is true to life.
“The setting is, to the best of my ability, completely true,” Wright said. “I didn’t want to make up anything about Cooperstown. It’s a really special place, and I couldn’t find it in myself to fictionalize it.”
In her effort to paint an accurate picture of Cooperstown past, Wright said she benefited from the village’s almost timeless quality.
“Once of the many nice things about Cooperstown is that it hasn’t changed too much, as far as the geographical setting,” Wright said. “You can’t even look at most towns and see what anybody would have seen years earlier. That’s completely not true about Cooperstown.”
While Wright’s family has since moved away from Cooperstown, she said her parents and brother’s family still have homes in the area, and that she was married at her parents’ house in Springfield Center.
“I’ve been in Brooklyn for 10 years, and I don’t envision leaving, but I spend a lot of time (in Cooperstown) still, and it is still the place I feel the most known,” Wright said, “which is the best definition of home I can think of.”