Cynthia Holz’s first novel with Knopf Canada is a spellbinding story that offers an intimate look at family, friendship and altruism, and unrolls a cast of characters you can’t help but root for even as you question some of the things they do.
Dr. Ben Wasserman, an organ transplant psychiatrist, is having trouble assessing a would-be kidney donor who may turn out to be a bona fide altruist. But as his interest in the man grows, so do his professional and emotional conflicts. At the same time, Ben’s psychologist wife, Renata Moon, is struggling to treat a phobic client whose husband died in a train crash. When the young woman reveals that she is pregnant, Renata’s disappointment in her own childless marriage is triggered anew.
Ben and Renata work hard all day, then go home to squabble over the nightly take-out. It doesn’t help to ease the rising tension in their marriage that Ben’s widowed mother, Molly, has made her disapproval of her yet-to-be-pregnant daughter-in-law well known. Nor does it help when Molly takes in a boarder, a man from her past whose secrets threaten to complicate the family dynamics even more.
Benevolence is intelligent, amusing and deeply humane, a novel that asks unsettling questions, makes surprising connections and allows room for some unexpected, magical solutions.
From the Hardcover edition.
About Cynthia Holz
CYNTHIA HOLZ is the author of four previous novels and one collection of short fiction, all of which have been widely acclaimed. She was born and raised in New York City and has lived in Toronto since moving here as… More about Cynthia Holz
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Published by Knopf Canada Mar 15, 2011| 288 Pages| 5-1/2 x 8-1/2| ISBN 9780307398918
“Like Bonnie Burnard (A Good House) and Carol Shields (Unless) Holz ponders the nature and limits of goodness. . . . Holz demonstrates the link between literature and psychology. She employs stream of consciousness à la James Joyce—only in a modified, more accessible way. . . . Holz follows in the footsteps of Carol Shields.” — National Post
“This new novel by Cynthia Holz offers that beautiful combination of tension and tenderness. . . . Holz is deeply skilled at conveying her characters’ emotional chaos. This isn’t a thriller by any means, but she knows how to make a reader feel very anxious.” — NOW (Toronto)
“Cynthia Holz has a gift for ordinary trauma. In Benevolence, patients and equally frail physicians struggle to recover from life’s pain. More alike than they know, braver than they think, Holz’s broken people tap into the mysterious interconnectedness that roots us under the surface.” —Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault
“Benevolence combines a deeply suspenseful plot with characters so vivid that I felt I might meet them at any moment on their way to a streetcar or a bar. Cynthia Holz writes beautifully about the longings and accommodations of middle age, work and trauma, poetry and gardens, and the possibility of altruism. The result is a wise and wonderful novel.” —Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street
From the Hardcover edition.
20 Writerly Questions for Cynthia Holz
1.How would you summarize your book in one sentence? Benevolence is about an angst-ridden organ transplant psychiatrist with marital problems who is transformed by his friendship with an altruistic would-be kidney donor.
2.How long did it take you to write this book? Six years.
3.Where is your favorite place to write? My study at home.
4.How do you choose your characters’ names? Sometimes a name pops up at the same time a character comes into focus, and sometimes I use the name of a dead friend or relative, but mostly I try out many different names till one sounds exactly right.
5.How many drafts do you go through? I always write several drafts—five or six for Benevolence—with lots of minor revisions along the way.
6.If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be? To Kill a Mockingbird.
7.If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it? Gabriel Byrne would be a great Ben Wasserman. I see Nicole Kidman as his wife, Renata Moon. (In fact, there’s a scene in the book where a drunken Ben refers to the actor as “Nicole Kidney.”) For Stella, Mia Wasikowska, and Dianne Wiest would be my choice for Molly. Dustin Hoffman could play Molly’s former lover Saul, and the all-important role of the altruist would go to William Macy. He has that “everyman” quality and the gravitas to pull it off.
8.What’s your favourite city in the world? For many years New York was my favourite city, but now Toronto gets my vote.
9.If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask? I’d like to have a cup of tea with Doris Lessing and ask her about her life.
10.Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind? I prefer to work in silence, with as few distractions as possible.
11.Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript? My good friend Deborah has been my first reader for years. Early on I showed a manuscript to my husband, but that didn’t work as well.
12.Do you have a guilty pleasure read? Any book I stick with and read cover-to-cover will be interesting and well-written and therefore give me pleasure. “Guilt” isn’t part of my reading experience.
13.What’s on your nightstand right now? To the end of the Land, a novel by David Grossman.
14.What is the first book you remember reading? The Secret Garden was read aloud to me and my fellow second-graders by our wonderful teacher. The first book I read on my own was probably Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion.
15.Did you always want to be a writer? I won a city-wide short story writing contest at thirteen, after which I longed to become a writer, though I had no idea how to go about it.
16.What do you drink or eat while you write? I drink genmaicha tea at my desk while writing and go to the kitchen for a mid-morning snack of fruit and something-or-other on toast.
17.Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper? I use a pen to write notes on tiny scraps of paper I often forget to look at again, but am happiest writing and editing on my laptop.
18.What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time? The first time I heard that a story of mine had been accepted for publication in a literary journal, I cried.
19.How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from? These days, I write in the third person point of view, which gives me flexibility and is a comfortable fit. The shape and conception of the novel determines right off whether there will be one, two, or several point-of-view characters.
20.What is the best gift someone could give a writer? Financial support.