I ran into Nancy Packer the other day; she was taking out the trash and I was leaving my parents’ building via the back door. I always get a little kick talking to this very wise women. She is the mother of two authors I admire: George Packer who wrote “The Unwinding” and Ann Packer, whose books I’ve collected but never quite cracked.
Something recently alerted me to the fact that Ann Packer’s 2011 novel “Swim Back To Me” has the same title as an old Geraldine Fibbers song. Indeed, the book has an indie rock leitmotif and references to The Fibbers, Pavement, The Pixies.
I found an extant copy at Bell’s Books last week and plunked down my 13 bucks. I made a joke to Faith Bell that I could call my apartment “Bells Books West” based on the stacks of books there, many of which I bought there, Palo Alto’s last used book store. I am guessing there are 600 books in my apartment, about 100 of which are stacked on the floor, over-flowing from the four book cases. Forty or so are from Bell’s, I reckon.
Not actually reading “Swim Back to Me” more like skimming — which is sort of like eavesdropping on the table next to you in a relatively noisy cafe — I stopped at page 102 when I saw reference to Superchunk.
Superchunk was originally Chunk and got its name serendipitously (which is very indie) in that original drummer Chuck Garrison got a piece of junk mail addressed to “Chunk Garrison”. Chuck left the band to form Small 23 and was replaced by Jon Wurster. Meanwhile original guitarist Jack McCook of Greensboro, North Carolina and Page High School (literary reference!!!?) left and was replaced by Jim Wilbur. In 1991 I was visiting Rich Durante and Brook Baker Durante when they were in grad school and saw a flyer about a Superchunk show that very night at Cat’s Cradle. Months earlier I had met leaving member McCook in San Francisco based on a call from Jim Yardley his high school and maybe childhood friend asking me to show Jack around. We went by Paradise Lounge which was pretty dead, and Pat O’Shea’s for food and some equally tepid music, and McCook ended up not moving to SF, thanks to me and my lame tours.
That night at Cat’s Cradle I was telling somebody that story and they said “McCook has left the band, but he’s here tonite!” so I went and reunited with him and watch the gig side-stage with him. After the show I was introduced to a lady named Tracy who said she could drive me back to Rich’s house after we fetched her boyfriend who was getting off work from Crook’s Corner. On the ride from Crook’s Corner to Rich Durante’s I gave Lane Wurster, the boyfriend and brother of new drummer Jon Wurster a greeting card I had made in Alistair Johnston’s book arts class, a letter press doo-hickey that said Mark Weiss 5752 Jewish New Years Greeting Card in various fonts and Lane and I bonded enough over that the he sent me a Mammoth Records Christmas card, showing their six employees and several Clyde Jones carvings, and then a Cats From Cavender card with pictures of four roommates and their pets. Anyhow, three years after that I started a concert company and five years after that Superchunk played my Earthwise 5th Anniversary show, and Lane and Chris Eselgrowth also while working for Mammoth moonlighted on about 20 or more Earthwise posters.
If I ever meet Ann Packer, like at a reading or the elevator of our parents’ building, I will offer to lend her my Geraldine Fibbers vinyl EP. The Fibbers played Cubberley, with Brian Jonestown Massacre in 1997 or so. Ann Packer is apparently friends with the author Sylvia Brownrigg who was my year at Gunn and I met originally at Fremont Hills elementary.
I mean to amend with more detail on this books use of indie rock and indie rock lyrics, plus a “Packer Primer” listing the three authors’ respective lists.
Ann Packer’s front list title, “The Children’s Crusade”
and1: I was thinking of sending word of this to the Superchunk archivist, whoever that might be. In 1999 or so, it must have been, they used to include in their press kit something from Village Voice a sports article that said something about how if Superchunk could stay indie, that the North Carolina basketball stars who entered the NBA draft early could have stayed in the NCAA. Must have been Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter.
andand: Kurt Vonnegut’s breakthru book, “Slaughter House Five” is also known as “The Children’s Crusade”..
To the Editor:
I can’t fathom why Katie Kitamura calls “The Children’s Crusade,” by Ann Packer (April 12), a “curiously polite” novel in which the central confrontation “takes place largely offstage.”
Packer’s story of the Blair family and its four adult siblings grappling with a distant, psychologically scarring mother with the help of a compensating, kind father is one I found beautiful precisely because it’s emotionally intense, at times hauntingly so.
Kitamura writes that in earlier novels Packer “covered more traumatic terrain,” but surely we know by now that among life’s most profound — and traumatic — challenges is a child’s attempt to work out over a lifetime why he or she didn’t merit a parent’s love and attention. The Blair siblings Robert, Rebecca, Ryan and James are drawn exquisitely by Packer in their distinct ways of doing just this.
BARBARA J. KING
The writer is the Chancellor professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary.