When Scott Carpenter is not busy teaching his The Lyric and Other Seduction class, or preparing for his spring term Paris study-abroad program, you may find him scribbling away, at work on a novel. A Professor of French and Francophone studies here at Carleton College, Carpenter recently published his debut novel Theory of Remainders.
Detailing the sad story of fifty-two year old French-American psychiatrist Philip Adler’s attempting to move on from the brutal death of his daughter, Theory of Remainders has received enthusiastic reviews, especially from Midwestern press sources.
Kirkus Review, one of the most well known book reviewers in the country, call Carpenter’s “literary novel a stellar achievement.”
The Library Journal says “Carpenter gives much here that will resonate powerfully with readers. A promising and impressive work that in many places is riveting.”
In response to the positive reviews Carpenter said, with a big smile, he was “relieved.” He explained that authors usually get their first press in their local area and that can often be a defining factor of the press they receive farther away—if the Midwest is any indicator, Carpenter is well on the road to success.
Carpenter’s inspiration to write Theory of Remainders is multi-faceted. On the most obvious level, he has a large knowledge of France and French culture from his studies at university and his experience as a professor.
He also spent a lot of time in France as a child, visiting Paris from his English home for school trips.
However, less apparent in his inspirations is that his students gave him. He says he has “a long history of American wrestling with French culture and language—and hearing bad French accents because of my experience with students.”
He also garnered interest in the experience a parent has when they lose a child because of the story of Jacob Wetterling. Jacob Wetterling, a boy from St. Joseph, Minnesota was abducted in 1989 (the year Carpenter first came to Minnesota and Carleton) and was never found. His parents created the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in order to help other lost children throughout the country.
Carpenter was fascinated with the ways in which people deal with trauma. He wanted to really think about what it is like to grapple with, as he puts it, “that kind of unknowing” people face without formal closure. He calls it “symptoms of the empty grave”.
Theory of Remainders is Carpenter’s first novel but he has published a collection of short stories called “This Jealous Earth” amongst other short stories and books written for academic specialists (usually in the realm of 19th century French literature). Unlike many other authors he does not have an Master of Fine Arts degree.
He laughingly said “that should be reassuring to people who haven’t done that. You need discipline, not a degree.”
Carpenter decided to try his hand at writing a novel because he felt like he had taught enough about literature to at least try and produce a piece.
He recalls, “I fooled myself into think it wouldn’t be so terribly hard, but it ended up being very, very difficult. However it was an exciting process and I learned a lot. For example, when you’re writing about literature you’re trying to show how clever you are and how well you can make sense of the author’s words. When you’re writing literature you’re trying to enfold things and make them more nuanced.”
Carpenter added that, in addition to the reviews from Midwest critics, he has also recieved feedback from fathers who have lost their daughters. He says that it seems like his account his recognized as a pretty authentic view of the experience of loss for people.
While Carpenter did a fairly extensive book tour in the Midwest earlier this year, including an event at Carleton, there will be several more local events featuring his book.
He will be interviewed on the radio Jan. 28th and will visit Barnes and Nobles in Edina, Minnesota Feb. 4th.
All proceeds generated from book sales are donated to the Jacob Wetterling Society.