MTPR

'Ballet At The Moose Lodge' With Caroline Patterson

Feb 14, 2018

In these stories, Patterson explores what it is to grow up female in the American West. As her narratives reveal the lives of travelers, homemakers, radio show announcers, mothers, teachers, dancers, shop clerks, and the subterranean world of girls, they take the reader from a ferry dock in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, to a two-room school in the Bitterroot Valley, from brash, backpacking college students to young new mothers on the edge, from the 1920s to the 1990s. In Ballet at the Moose Lodge, Patterson explores in delicate and searing prose the visible and invisible negotiations women make to navigate lives bound by the rugged western landscape.

Ballet At The Moose Lodge
Credit Riverbend Publishing

The following highlights are from a conversation with Caroline Patterson, who is also the director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative. To hear the full conversation click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: What makes these western stories?

Caroline Patterson: I think because I’m so rooted in this place, and I feel that I write very much out of this place; I can’t really imagine these stories really in any other place. . . The west is not just a destination, as many people think it is. The west is a really complex place to live and one of the things that really interests me in writing about women living in the west is that for so many of the men that I grew up reading, which pretty much defined as history when I was growing up, the west was always about a place of escape or redefinition. It’s a very different thing for most women, especially the women I grew up knowing. It could be a place of experiencing freedom, but for many women I knew, the west was often also a place of being trapped. It was a place of feeling isolated. It was also a place of frustration and despair and then trying to feel your way out of those things, or feel your way into not being trapped by those things. It also meant being surrounded by people saying “But you’re living in a place with so much freedom,” when those woman are not feeling those things at all. To me that’s the particular dilemma of women living in the west and maybe particularly women living decades earlier. . .

Your work has been called “unflinching,” and you take on some tough subjects in this book including teen pregnancy, child molestation, and eating disorders. Where does this courage come from in you?

I try to look at the light stuff.    

Laughing.

Well, I’ve personally had to look at some hard things in my own life and I guess it’s the material that interests me. I come from a family that had to deal with some really dark things and didn’t always deal with them in a straightforward way. One of the reasons writing appealed to me so much was that the honesty of writers was so clarifying to me. Here was a place where you could really say what you thought, where people said what they thought. It was like an astringent. It was bracing and not always comfortable but it was so clarifying because people observed things that they really felt were going on and not the polite version of what was going on.

Do you have a sense of why you turned to fiction, because you could have turned to straight nonfiction. But why fiction and why the short story?

I like the latitude of fiction. I don’t think my own stories in and of themselves would be particularly great memoir. I like being able to use them as a starting off point but not an ending point. I started out in music and I think I have a real musical sense of the story as a shape. I was a pianist and I played a lot of sonatas, and they kind of have a shape like a sonata, you know with an opening, a middle section and a conclusion. I love short stories. I love the shape of them, I like the development of them, I like the intensity of them. Probably more than the novel, which I’m still trying to write well, I have more of an organic sense of their shape as a whole.

So thinking about the book as a whole, what kind of body of music does it resemble most closely, I mean there are four sections, four movements. . .?

Well, that would be like a sonata, actually. Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. A quartet maybe.

What instruments would you want to hear if you could turn your book into a musical piece?

Probably piano, violin, definitely cello, probably a bass somewhere in there. Maybe some horns. Maybe we’re talking a symphony. . .

Caroline Patterson

About the Book: Caroline Patterson, best known as the editor of the Willa Award–winning anthology, Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, is also the author of powerful short fiction. Her new collection, Ballet at the Moose Lodge, showcases sixteen of her extraordinary stories.

In these stories, Patterson explores what it is to grow up female in the American West. As her narratives reveal the lives of travelers, homemakers, radio show announcers, mothers, teachers, dancers, shop clerks, and the subterranean world of girls, they take the reader from a ferry dock in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, to a two-room school in the Bitterroot Valley, from brash, backpacking college students to young new mothers on the edge, from the 1920s to the 1990s. In Ballet at the Moose Lodge, Patterson explores in delicate and searing prose the visible and invisible negotiations women make to navigate lives bound by the rugged western landscape.

Montana novelist Kim Zupan writes, “The emotional breadth of these heart-wrenching yarns is vast, the characters within them fragile yet counterintuitively rugged and complex. Here are stories that explore the darkest recesses of the soul and will resound in your head like the ring of an ax long after you put this wonderful book aside.”

Deirdre McNamer, author of Rima in the Weeds and Red Rover, adds: “[Patterson’s] characters are embedded in the West, physically and emotionally, but their struggles are not local, nor is the experience of reading these lovely, original explorations of their lives.”

About the Author:

Caroline Patterson grew up in Missoula, Montana, in the four-square Prairie-style house that was built by her great-grandfather in 1906 after he won a case against the Great Northern Railway. She lives there today with her husband and her two college-aged children. In 2006, she published the anthology Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, which won a Willa Award. Her work is appearing in upcoming anthologies including Montana Noir (Akashic Books, 2017) and Bright Bones: Innovative Montana Writing (Open Country Press, 2017), and she has published fiction in periodicals including Alaska Quarterly Review, Epoch, Salamander, Southwest Review, and Seventeen. In addition to teaching fiction at the University of Montana, she has received awards including the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Fiction at Stanford University, Joseph Henry Jackson Prize from the San Francisco Foundation, a Vogelstein Foundation Award, as well as residencies from the Ucross Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the executive director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative.