Morgenstern Books will conduct a book talk featuring Scott Russell Sanders at 6:30 pm on June 9. Sanders will be discussing and answering questions about his new book, “Small Marvels.” Copies of the novel will be available at the event.
“Small Marvels,” Sanders’ 25th book, takes place in the fictional small town of Limestone, Indiana. The book follows Gordon Mills, a city maintenance worker who provides for a household of nine. Gordon often encounters strange and fantastical things in his work like centaurs, nymphs and supernatural corn, but he does not dwell on these events, taking them in stride as part of his work.
This is not Sanders’ first book event with Morgenstern Books. He said he had a close connection with the founder of the bookstore, Rick Morgenstern, and did a number of events at Morgenstern’s old location in the Eastland plaza before that store was forced out of business.
“It’s an enrichment for any community to have a really good independent bookstore,” he said. “Especially in a university town where you have 40-something thousand students and maybe four thousand faculty, it’s a shame not to have one.”
“Small Marvels” blends fantastical elements into the lives of a small Indiana town, combining the mundane with the uncanny. Sanders said this juxtaposition aims to highlight the unusual parts of everyday life, a sentiment which inspired the title.
“One of the things I’m after with this book is to wake up readers to the mysterious and astonishing things that are actually part of our daily lives that we become accustomed to,” he said. “We too easily lose the sense of how astounding life itself is.”
Although some of the anomalies that appear in “Small Marvels” are staples of the fantasy genre, Sanders said most of his inspiration came from folktales. He said one particular arc of the book deals with alligators in Limestone’s sewers, which was inspired by urban legends describing similar scenes.
“What’s different about folktales is that they exaggerate things,” Sanders said. “This exaggeration is partly a source of humor, but it’s also a way of just calling attention to certain aspects of the world.”
Sanders has a long history in Indiana, particularly in Bloomington. He and his wife have lived in Bloomington for more than 50 years, and Sanders was an IU English professor from the time he finished graduate school until his retirement in 2009.
Sanders’ choice to showcase a working-class, blue-collar individual as his main character was deliberate. Mills is a jack-of-all-trades, and Sanders uses that to explore numerous aspects of life in Limestone. He said that he doesn’t see much representation for these people in literature, and that they’re often taken for granted or thought of as invisible.
Growing up in rural northeastern Ohio, Sanders said he was exposed to these populations from an early age. He said many of the people around him worked in trades like farming, carpentry and plumbing.
“This is not about glorifying a particular person or social class, it’s just about inviting readers to be more alert to the folks who make the world work,” Sanders said. “The truck drivers and house builders and street cleaners of the world.”
Sanders said this novel represented something of a reprieve for him. The other books he was working on while writing “Small Marvels” dealt with prominent issues in the world. He said whenever he got burnt out by those, he would turn to his tale of Limestone, Indiana.
“It would help refresh my sense that humans are not all monsters,” he said. “We need to know about the miseries of the world, but we also need reminders that it’s not the whole truth about us as human beings.”