Bryn Greenwood, in her book “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” grabs the reader from the first sentence: “My mother always started the story by saying, ‘Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger’s car’ as though that explained why Wavy wasn’t normal.” By the end of the first paragraph, which continues with the circumstances of Wavy’s backseat birth and ends, “If you ever consider playing Good Samaritan to a pregnant woman, think about cleaning that up,” readers want more.
“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” is this year’s selection for Greene County Reads. Discussions are slated for Thursday, April 12, in Grand Junction, Paton and Jefferson. The discussions will be noticeably different from previous years’ discussions for two big reasons. First, the book is nothing like the librarians have picked before, and second, author Bryn Greenwood will be at the discussions.
The book jacket describes the story as “a beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth-lab backdrop of their lives.”
Those “unlikely people” are Wavy, the girl born on the backseat of a stranger’s car, and Kellen, a huge thug of a man who works for Wavy’s meth-dealing father. Wavy is small, painfully quiet, and so fair her hair is almost white. She’s only 8 years old when she meets tattoo-covered Kellen. That meeting is the first time in her life Wavy – full name Wavonna – says her name out loud.
Much of the story is set in the meth-cooking culture of Wavy’s parents and their associates. The culture is harsh, raw, and full of drugs, alcohol and sex, and Greenwood doesn’t shy away from telling things that happen there. Readers are drawn in watching Wavy navigate the culture and learn from Kellen what it is to love and be loved.
Greenwood said she’s been invited to be part of book club discussions of the book, but the Greene County discussions are the first community discussions she’s been part of. She’s a Midwesterner, a Kansan, and knows the conservative nature of small Midwest towns. “I was surprised that librarians picked the book. It’s an adult book,” she said, referring to the subject and content, not the reading level.
During a GreeneCountyNewsOnline interview, she said she comes to discussions as a guest, not as a presenter. “I’m there for the back story and information, and to open up things that people haven’t thought about,” she said. “If the discussion lags, I have things I bring up. I talk about my long, dismal history with men.”
The story of Kellen and Wavy is a product of her “fairly cluttery” mind. “I was driving through rural Kansas and I saw a man on a motorcycle on a dirt road in a hay field. I just knew there was a little girl in that hay field. It just came into my head,” she explained.
They meet on page 26 of the book and they have an instant bond, Wavy noting that Kellen is a Giant with soft eyes who smells good (sweat, gasoline and bacon), and Kellen asking Wavy if she’s an angel. “That’s what I wrote first. Then I had to go backward to get them there, and then forward. A lot of the story was a surprise to me, too,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood works fulltime as office manager and chief of staff in one of the colleges at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She doesn’t think of writing as a leisure activity. “I take it seriously and I get paid for it, so it’s work. It started as a hobby but then it became an obsession. Once a hobby becomes an obsession, it’s work,” she said.
Typically she writes between 20-30 hours a week, in addition to her university job. She spends another 10-15 hours a week promoting her books. “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2016) is her third book. She is the author of “Lie Lay Lain” (2014) and “Last Will” (2012).
Greenwood writes on her webpage that when she was young, “my family often accused me of being a storyteller, which is a polite way in Kansas of calling someone a liar. Later I found out it really doesn’t matter whether something’s true, as long as it’s a good story.”
“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” is available at all public libraries in the county, and most readers can finish it in a week. “I always try to write so it’s easy to get through, because the fun is discussing it at the end,” Greenwood said.
Book discussions will be held April 12 at 9 am at the Grand Junction library, at 2 pm at the Wm Paton Public Library in Paton, and at 7 pm at the clubhouse at the Jefferson Community Golf Course, hosted by the Jefferson public library. Retired East Greene English teacher Jan Scharingson will lead the discussions. There is no charge to attend.