Students and faculty flocked into Olin Hall to listen to Assistant Professor of English C.J. Hauser present on her book Family of Origin on Thursday, November 14. Published in July 2019, the book centers around siblings Elsa and Nolan Grey and their exploration of science, self and the world in the wake of their father’s death.
Associate Professor of English and organizer of the Living Writers series Jennifer Brice began the event by introducing Hauser. The introduction was humorous yet displayed the critical and community-wise respect and admiration held for the author.
“Family of Origin has won full throated praise from critics who nonetheless struggle to describe it. Quote, ‘oddly enticing, and oddball brilliant,’ they say, also, ‘strange and heartbreaking, disturbing and weird,’’ Brice said.
Brice also described Hauser in the words of the author’s own friends which included superlatives such as “connoisseur of cheeses,” “tamer of Bernese Mountain Dogs” and “thrower of fabulous parties.” At this point in the event, the hot chocolate—left unsupervised and plugged in at the reception—had overheated in a fluke accident and filled Olin’s entry room with smoke, causing the fire alarm to begin blaring.
The event was temporarily put on hold as campus safety officers proceeded to dump the contents of the machine in the snow so that the smoke would clear. Soon, however, everything was right back on course and audience members filed back to their seats.
“I’m actually here today to talk about fire safety…” Hauser said at the start of her talk.
As laughter from the audience died down, Hauser kicked off the lecture by reading an excerpt from Family of Origin out loud.
She followed the excerpt with a reading of her nonfiction essay, “Blood: Twenty-Seven Love Stories From Life.” The essay is a compilation of multiple love stories from her family history and her own life.
“I was imagining all of the different, mostly love stories that I had received from people in my family, the stories that we tell about love in my family that got passed down, and how warped they are,” she said.
The stories themselves represent an eclectic mix of experiences, dating as far back as 1918 and as recently 2014. Hauser depicts one family’s turbulent history of love—one minute bursting with silliness and laughter and the next minute saturated with a sudden sobriety. Many of the stories focus on her parent’s relationship, their differing recollections of their first date, the nostalgia-tinted retelling of their courtship and their present day marital antics. One story that drew a lot of laughter was “Guys and Dolls, 2004” in which Hauser reenacted her father singing show tunes in a moment of playful banter with her mother.
Even stories with more serious content, like her sister debating whether or not to stay with her partner in “Cyclical, 2014,” were told in humorous, dry tones. This tone reflects Hauser’s desire to, in her own words, “make sense of what we’re supposed to do with these narratives, operate within them or speak against them.”
The event concluded with a Q&A portion in which community members had an opportunity to ask Hauser about her writing process, her works and other backstory questions. One audience member even offered up his own interpretation about what the island in Family of Origin represented. Hauser seemed pleased by this sparking of discussion.
“I love readers!” she said.
“My works are about thinking about the stories that we are given about our life, the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, the stories that culture tells us are true about our lives and how we reckon with those," Hauser said.