Provenance: a novel
by Sue Mell
WINNER OF THE MADVILLE BLUE MOON NOVEL COMPETITION
ISBN: 978-1-956440-02-7 paperback $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-956440-03-4 ebook $9.99
release date: July 19, 2022
The story behind Provenance: a novel
Still grieving his wife’s early death, DJ has spent the last three years—and the money from her insurance policy—collecting guitars, composing music, and continuing to shop the Brooklyn stoop sales and flea markets they’d always enjoyed. When his building is sold, he takes refuge in his younger sister’s half-finished basement, imagining a comfortable and solitary retreat in Hurley, the small Hudson Valley town where they grew up. Instead, he finds himself caught up in her troubling divorce, drafted as caregiver for his 11-year-old niece, and unable to face or afford a storage unit crammed with hundreds of vinyl records and every other scrap of his former life. DJ gifts his niece a marbled glass egg, a porkpie hat, and one of his prized guitars. But what’s asked of him, on his return to Hurley is not to give the perfect object—it’s to give of himself.
Winner of the Madville Publishing 2021 Blue Moon Novel Award, Provenance is a story of hope in ruin. With subtle poignancy and humor, it offers fresh takes on contemporary conflicts, exploring pivotal moments of sorrow, longing, and renewal in the lives of three deeply textured and indelible characters.
About the author:
Sue Mell is a writer from Queens, NY. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College and was a 2020 BookEnds fellow at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton. Her collection of micro essays, Giving Care, was a semi-finalist for the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Prize. Other work has appeared in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Cleaver Magazine, Digging Through the Fat, Jellyfish Review, Narrative Magazine, Newtown Literary, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Whale Road Review. Find her at suemellwrites.com and on Twitter @suemell2017
What People are Saying about Provenance:
The story is compelling, and the relationships that are explored here are a study in the dynamics of family and social expectation. It reminded me in ways of novels such as The Shipping News, and others of like categories, studies in mood and situation and character. More to the point, it’s just plain beautifully written. The prose is gentle, swaying, warm, and inviting. It’s a good read, and it stays with the reader afterwards in a very pleasant if somewhat bittersweet way.
—Clay Reynolds, Blue Moon Novel Competition judge, and author of The Vigil, Agatite, Franklin’s Crossing, Ars Poetica, Monuments, and The Tentmaker.
“Provenance is a beautifully supple book about the power of renewal and the everyday, small redemptions hiding within families. Sue Mell artfully captures the hold of the past in all its intoxicating, tumbledown glory and sings it to life in the present.”
—Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
“Widowed DJ leaves Park Slope to move in with his younger sister and her 11-year-old daughter in upstate New York, leaving behind a lifetime’s collection of musical instruments, memorabilia, and flea market treasures. Unmoored without the security of his stuff, DJ is finally able to face his own grief and become able to truly love, for perhaps the first time in his life. Sue Mell’s searingly beautiful prose and her truly troubled, truly decent characters make Provenance a gorgeous, unforgettable novel about learning how to value what is most important in life: those we love and those who show us how to be better.”
—Susan Scarf Merrell, author of Shirley: A Novel
“Sue Mell’s Provenance is a story of resiliency. Her characters are as challenged and as flawed as the rest of us, but through the small things they do for each other and the small gifts they give each other, they find their way forward. Ultimately, this is a book about kindness, compassion, and sacrifice—old-fashioned virtues that, Mell shows us, still hold their value.”
—Peter Turchi, author of Maps of the Imagination
“In Sue Mell’s Provenance, an adult brother and sister navigate a tricky relationship that tests the limits of interdependence. They exemplify what Alfred Hayes said, that what one ran out of was not mistakes, but the years to make them in. This novel taps into the characters’ reserves of motivation and strength in service of what we all want: another chance, and what might still be possible when our best efforts fall short.”
—Amy Hempel, award-winning author of Sing to It and The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
“Siblings DJ and Connie have each lost a spouse and a home. Now what? Living together as adults, they make sense of what they still possess—literally and metaphorically, using the objects in their lives to consider the past and move into the future. Sue Mell’s Provenance is a relatable, intricate novel about later-life reckoning that (like the antiques store it features) offers up plenty of treasures for the reader.”
—Debra Spark, author of Unknown Caller
“Wisdom of great depth and span marks each page of Sue Mell’s Provenance. The two memorable central characters, brother and sister, try to dig out of accumulations of guilt and loss and dread while learning to count on each other as never before. Mell presents their complex dilemma with remarkable sensitivity and intelligence. The reader of Provenance intimately experiences the characters making the difficult effort to recognize who they were and who they are, not for the sake of easy absolution, but for the intention of living more authentically.”
—Kevin McIlvoy, author of One Kind Favor
“Sue Mell’s Provenance is a novel of irresistibly messy lives, loves, and legacies that, ironically, reads immaculately. Not a letter, not a paragraph, is out of place in this beautiful, beautiful book.”
—Liam Callanan, author of Paris by the Book
“In clear-eyed, luminous prose, Sue Mell tells the story of a man submerged in grief and impossible yearnings who digs his way out of the remnants of a former life. D.J. scrutinizes his vanishing options with the startling honesty of a man bewildered by circumstance, adrift in his suddenly unrecognizable existence, but always articulate, always a charmer. In this wise and beautiful novel, everyone falls in love with D.J., including the reader.”
—Megan Staffel, author of The Exit Coach
“Sue Mell’s astute powers of observation, wit, and emotional intelligence shine in this deeply rewarding novel about a middle-aged man-child who can’t stop himself from screwing up. DJ has been relying on his charm to coast through life. Women have always bailed him out. But when his wife succumbs to cancer, his life falls apart. Grief—past the platitudes—is a dangerous trap, especially for a guy like DJ. I raced through the pages of this book to see if he was capable of doing better for the sake of his sister who takes him in. Long after I read the last page, this book sings in my heart.”
—Olga Zilberbourg, author of Like Water & Other Stories
“Sue Mell is a master of quiet tension, which builds slowly throughout Provenance, until the characters seem to have run out of options to make their lives work, either alone or together. At the same time about large themes like life and death, the novel gathers its momentum from the small moments and choices that fill our days. Packed with quietly exquisite prose, nearly every word perfectly chosen, Provenance fills the reader with both admiration and anxiety—until the very end, when the main character, who fizzled away his previous life and has come to live in his divorced sister’s basement, realizes he might need to rethink his purpose.”
—Jane Anne Staw, author of Small: The Little We Need for Happiness
“If you’ve ever suffered a loss, if you’ve ever had to start over, you will find kinship and hope and even joy in Provenance, the story of a widower seeking to salvage his life after moving back to his small hometown in upstate New York. I cannot recall reading a debut novel imbued with such depth of understanding and compassion for its characters, or one that better captures the messy business of living. Sue Mell writes like a dream.”
—Will Allison, author of the novels What You Have Left and Long Drive Home
Authors Interviewing Characters: Sue Mell
July 19, 2022 | By Women Writers Women Books
“Authors Interviewing Characters: Sue Mell interviews Connie, from PROVENANCE”
“5 Tips for Writing and Structuring Effective Turning Points for Your Characters”
Sticking forks in the roads of your character’s lives is an important way to create conflict, build tension, and even start your story. Here, author Sue Mell shares 5 tips for writing and structuring effective turning points for your characters. read more…
DJ has allowed life to happen to him. He’s hit bottom, but continued falling. In Provenance, he lands in the home of his younger sister and her daughter, where all is not sweetness and light. DJ’s sister is facing a divorce and financial catastrophe, and it’s time for DJ to step up and figure out what’s most important in life.
Gorgeous prose and heartfelt characters. Loved it!