After living in Princeton for 17 years, author Lauren B. Davis has finally authored her first novel set in the town, as well as in neighboring Trenton. “Even So,” published by Dundurn Press on Oct. 12, explores the value of loving difficult people and sheds light on the marginalization that Davis has herself witnessed in her time in Princeton.
The book follows two women — a privileged matron residing in Princeton and a Catholic nun running a food pantry in Trenton — as they navigate the challenges of their relationship and the broader issues of inequality in their communities.
When Davis and her husband first moved to Princeton, they expected a diverse community. Although they found that to be true in some ways, in other ways Davis felt the town was not nearly as integrated, both racially and economically, as she had thought.
“I was struck by this dissonance between the bright sparkling university, with all its great minds and talents, and some of the undercurrents on the streets of Princeton,” Davis said. “It’s Ralph Lauren on one side and people who have trouble getting housing on the other.”
“Even So” reflects these societal divisions and prompts readers, in particular Princeton residents, to ask themselves who they consider to be the “other” in Princeton and where they see themselves, Davis said.
Her previous eight novels have all examined similar questions: Who gets marginalized and why? Who do we choose to be the other and why do we choose for them to be the other? What happens to both of us as a result?
Davis has also long been interested in the idea of love as a tool for transformation rather than simply a reward for good behavior.
In the novel, Princeton matron Angela Morrison is discontent and is questioning the choices she has made; she is searching for a far more passionate life than the one she has.
At the pantry where Angela volunteers, Sister Eileen introduces her to Carsten, a landscape architect who has come to build a vegetable garden for the soup kitchen, and the two begin an affair. Angela ends up causing enormous tragedy and seeks out support from Sister Eileen, who is then confronted with the challenge of caring for someone who has caused immense harm to others.
In the words of Davis: “It’s easy to love people who have been harmed, but far less easy to love people who do harm.”
Davis was inspired, in part, by a friend of hers who is a Catholic nun who often talks about wrestling with difficult angels.
Although “Even So” tackles serious issues and may prompt some Princeton residents to ask tough questions of themselves, Davis hopes local readers will also have fun recognizing locations in the book. Davis herself loves reading novels set in places where she has spent time.
Davis will discuss her newest book on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in an online event hosted by Labyrinth Books and the Princeton Public Library. She will be joined by author and Princeton University Professor Sheila Kohler, and Sister Rita Woehlcke, director of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Associates in Mission of Philadelphia.
Register for the event on the Labyrinth Books website.