The storyline of Denise Giardina's new novel, Fallam's Secret, features time travel, an orphaned heroine and a love story punctuated by sex lots of sex.
It seems at first a departure for Giardina, a West Virginia author best known for serious historical fiction, including Saints and Villains, her acclaimed 1998 novel about the life of Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A closer examination of Fallam's Secret reveals threads of serious themes, but it's clear the author is mostly enjoying herself in this first book of a new series.
"It was just so much fun," Giardina says during an interview in Charleston, West Virginia, where she lives and teaches writing. "I finally reached the point where I thought, you know, I don't have to prove anything writing some big, heavy, serious thing anymore. Saints and Villains took a lot out of me."Fallam's Secret tells the fascinating story of Lydde, a West Virginia woman who goes back in time. "She's an actress and she's been living in England for a long time but she comes home because she thinks the uncle who raised her has died," Giardina explains. "She ends up in the Mystery Hole, which has a wormhole under it, and she goes back in time."A wormhole, in theory, is a space tunnel where time behaves differently. Giardina based the setting of the Mystery Hole on a real tourist attraction near the New River Gorge in West Virginia. "The gorge itself has always seemed very mysterious to me. It just popped into my head that it would be fun to have the Mystery Hole be the site of one of the wormholes."Part of Lydde's adventure is traveling through time as a 55-year-old woman and emerging in 1657 with a 20-something body. Giardina's other books contain sex scenes, but she acknowledges these are more explicit. "I try to do different things in each book and this was something I decided to explore it's supposed to be hard to write, so I wanted to try it. I also wanted to show sex as a beautiful thing and to show married sex as explicitly erotic and to challenge the puritanical attitudes toward sex that still exist."Giardina researched the 17th century for authentic details, but emphasizes that most of the book came from her imagination. "It's fantasy history. Chichester and Stratford I mushed together into a town I call Norchester. Even the New River I've fictionalized. I've got the Mystery Hole on the other side of the gorge I moved it."On the serious side, characters in Fallam's Secret challenge attitudes of prejudice and struggle against injustice, a trademark of Giardina's fiction. "I really take on fundamentalism. The Puritans in this book stand in for modern fundamentalists. Not just Christian fundamentalism, but Islamic fundamentalism, too," says Giardina, a multi-faceted woman who holds a divinity degree and ran unsuccessfully for governor of West Virginia in 2000. "This whole fundamentalist mindset is very scary to me. I think it's the big challenge that we're going to have for the next generation. It's very powerful, it's very irrational."The ease with which Giardina wrote Fallam's Secret astonished its author. After the arduous task of writing about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Saints, "I didn't even know if I'd ever write another novel," she says. But in six months, she was finished. "It even took my publisher by surprise. I'm already in the middle of book two." "I hit 50, and I started doing several things differently. I started saying I'm going to read things I want to read, not because I think I should read them. If I start a book and I don't like it, I'm not going to finish it. I'm 50. I don't have as much time left as I used to have," Giardina says. "I think I've decided to do that with my fiction, too. I just decided if it's not fun, I'm not going to write it." Belinda Anderson is a West Virginia writer and teacher and the author of The Well Ain't Dry Yet, a collection of short stories published by Mountain State Press.