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Carmiel BanaskySo many books, so little time. But if we turn off screens — those ravenous devourers of time — and pick up a book, the ticking clock slows and we feel suspended in time. Turns out, there is actually plenty of time to read.


Time travel is one of the themes in Carmiel Banasky’s debut novel, “The Suicide of Claire Bishop” ($24.95), and Portland publishing company Dzanc/Hawthorne Books is understandably excited about the book, which recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. We hereby give it Tribune stars, too.

Raised in Portland and a graduate of Wilson High School in Southwest Portland, Banasky, 33, lives in Los Angeles. She will be a featured speaker at the Wordstock festival at the Portland Art Museum on Nov. 7.

(It’s such good news that this festival of books — recently acquired by Literary Arts — is returning, and that the new organizers finally realized there needs to be food, beer and wine on the premises, too. The all-day, one-day festival includes authors, writers, and publishers hobnobbing across three ballrooms.)

Banasky appeared at Powell’s City of Books recently to read from “The Suicide of Claire Bishop.”

To place a painting at the center of a book’s action, as Banasky does, is a dubious proposition. But Banasky pulls this tricky thing off, and the initially skeptical reader follows the painting’s travels through 1950s Greenwich Village to post-9/11 New York. The author juggles a cluster of topics — physics, time travel and mental illness — along the way. Was it a “romp” or a “pleasure to read” as reviewers like to say? Hardly.

The novel begins in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. Claire Bishop is a housewife who believes she has inherited a gene for madness. She awaits her fate, policing herself for signs that she is going nuts. While Claire does indeed engage in some borderline dangerous stuff, this could be because she’s unhappy with her life and cheating husband. When her husband commissions an artist to paint her portrait, it’s perhaps not a huge shock to Claire to see that the finished painting depicts her leaping off a bridge.

Banasky is a brainy and wonderful writer; she has a master of fine arts from Hunter College (New York City), and her fellow alum Phil Klay won the 2014 National Book Award for “Redeployment.” So it goes without saying that she writes exceedingly well, especially from the point of view of West, the young man obsessed with the painting when he sees it decades after it was painted. He becomes convinced that the artist is his ex-girlfriend, but she could not have been alive when it was painted. West, who suffers from schizophrenia, nonetheless makes a lot of sense at times:

“Down in the lobby, there’s a camera pivoting toward me like a duck’s head, filming me as I slip out the front doors and cross the street. If I could piece together the footage of my personal surveillance, from all the storefronts and ATMs and museums I’ve ever walked by, I could make a film of my true self.”

The reader teeters uncomfortably between rooting for West and knowing that he can’t survive, looking forward to and dreading him in equal parts throughout the book’s 386 pages. We hope that his lovable sister, Jules, can save him. Claire, the novel’s difficult lead character, lacks West’s lightning charisma.

Dzanc, a nonprofit publisher based in Michigan, joined forces with Portland’s Hawthorne Books earlier this year. Their focus is on literary fiction and memoirs of a highly unfluffy nature. For instance, Janet Sternburg’s memoir “White Matter, A Memoir of Family and Medicine” was released in September. It’s about the use of prefrontal lobotomies to treat mental illness. Just because it’s one that probably won’t make the cut at the neighborhood book club doesn’t mean you can’t find the time to read it.

Meanwhile, some women who rock on stage and page:

n Patti Smith will release her new book “M Train” this fall. Her Friday Nov. 20, appearance at the Newmark Theater is already sold out.

n Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders has a just published a memoir called “Reckless.”

n Carrie Brownstein’s “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl” is coming out Oct. 27. She and comedian Tig Notaro are appearing at the Newmark in a Powell’s Books event on Nov. 5 (tickets at portland5.com).

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