Jamie Duclos-Yourdon observed candidly at the beginning of his reading at McNally-Jackson on Wednesday, Oct. 12 that he probably knew the first names of all but perhaps three audience members.
Despite the lack of a need for introductions, he still addressed all 30-some crowd members and explained his journey from his home state of New York, to Colby College in Maine, to an MFA in creative writing from University of Arizona and finally to his current home in Oregon. This final destination on the West Coast is a critical component of his debut novel, titled “Froelich’s Ladder,” which was released on Aug. 9 by Forest Avenue Press. The story follows two brothers who arrived in Oregon among the first wave of settlers during the 1850s. Duclos-Yourdon describes the work as “fantabulist”–– instead of requiring intensive research, the setting of the story happened to lend itself to his needs. Those needs included an impossibly tall ladder and man-eating clouds, among similarly outlandish ideas.
Duclos-Yourdon’s prose is not the star of his novel, but it lifts his comic dialogue and shuttles the narrative along smoothly. When asked about his influences, he mentioned the desire for something closer to a Shakespearean comedy than a tragedy, having his characters reunite joyfully by the end of the story. Besides the great bard, though, Duclos-Yourdon’s influences included Brian Doyle, Kelly Link and John Cheever, though “influence” may be the wrong word. He described his relation to all three as more permissive –– meaning that after reading their work, things that previously did not seem possible in fiction entered the realm of the possible.
The source of the novel’s conflict, a Native American woman who chooses to marry Froelich’s brother Harold over Froelich, is similarly Shakespearean, and the journey that Froelich embarks upon to escape this state of things in Oregon is greater than any trip ever undertaken in a Shakespearean play.
His trip to success may also ring true for many NYU students in creative writing programs: “Froelich’s Ladder” is in fact Duclos-Yourdon’s eighth completed novel, but only the first to sell. The absurdity of his journey from sitting in the back of a book reading to being in the front of the room was noted many times during the reading.
“You are all experts in something,” Duclos-Yourdon told the room. “Whether you can make money from that or not is another problem.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 17 print edition. Email Michael Landes at [email protected]