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Author Wrestles With Wolves In 'Treat Us Like Dogs'


When Carolyn Chute's new novel opens, the end of the 20th century looms. A local newspaper in Egypt, Maine, gets calls that a place called The Settlement is stockpiling guns and brutalizing children, all to serve and protect a compelling and mysterious man named Gordon St. Onge - whom they call The Profit. Ivy Morelli is the newspaper's young columnist. She drives a sports car and senses there could be a life-changing story for her in The Settlement, but maybe not the kind she imagined. She finds herself drawn more deeply into the community and into the orbit of The Profit. Carolyn Chute's new novel, the second in a series, is called "Treat Us Like Dogs And We Will Become Wolves." Carolyn Chute, the author of the best-selling saga "The Beans Of Egypt, Maine," joins us from the studios of Maine Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks so much for being with us.

CAROLYN CHUTE: Thanks for having me on the show.

SIMON: Do you even know how many characters are in this book?

CHUTE: (Laughter) No. Counting dogs and everybody - no 'cause things get moved around a lot over the years. I worked on this book in the '90s when I was young. I'm glad it took me a long time because I could add things that I learned over this period of time about human behavior and various things.

SIMON: Tell us about The Profit, Gordon St. Onge.

CHUTE: He was somebody who had a dream to live a life where it didn't seem like people would be set adrift. Living by themselves, maybe wind up homeless - that was very central to the idea of The Settlement. You know, like today's world is very cruel. I think of today's life - the little game that we played in school when we were in sub-primary where they had the little chairs.

SIMON: Musical chairs.

CHUTE: Yes. And then she'd keep taking the chairs away, and finally there was just one little winner. Yeah. It seems that way that we have this modern culture that a lot of people wind up without a chair.

SIMON: You left school at the age of 16, I gather?

CHUTE: I did, but I was married after that - not my present husband but the one I was married to for eight years. And he and I decided to go to night school. Then I worked for a newspaper. That's kind of where some of my ideas about working for a paper came from.

SIMON: Oh, a life for Ivy Morelli, her character?

CHUTE: Yeah. It was the - in fact, it was the paper here in Portland. Yeah. I was very happy at that job with the people I worked for, but I was very shy - began to realize that I needed to find a job where I'd be by myself.

SIMON: Did you want to be a writer even then?

CHUTE: I never wanted to be a writer. I still don't.

SIMON: (Laughter). How did this happen, Ms. Chute, then?

CHUTE: I was quite young - a teenager writing love stories and pornographies. You know how teenagers are. But then it got more complicated as time went on.

SIMON: May I ask you about your husband Michael?

CHUTE: Sure.

SIMON: I've read that he doesn't read your books.

CHUTE: Right. He doesn't read.

SIMON: May I ask - And I'm sorry if this is too personal - is that difficult? Because of reading and words are very important to you.

CHUTE: Oh, yes.

SIMON: 'Cause you can't even turn to him and say, you ought to see this article I just read in Reader's Digest?

CHUTE: Reader's Digest? (Laughter).

SIMON: I just came up with that. The Times gets enough publicity.

CHUTE: (Laughter). I see. Right. We talk about that stuff all the time because when I read it then I tell him what I read.

SIMON: Oh, I see.

CHUTE: So we're very close in that way. But in the way that it hurts for him to have such serious dyslexia and anxiety, and the way that it hurts is no income from it. You know, he has a disability check, but it's very tiny. That's very rough not to - you know, for us to worry about where our property taxes are coming from and, you know, fixing the things that break. Right now I have a washing machine that I use by stirring it with a broom. I'm fortunate - I'm very fortunate that it rings out by itself. It spins. This one just stopped agitating, so I have to take the broom. So there's that sort of thing.

SIMON: 'Cause you live in the woods, in the wilderness?

CHUTE: It is woodsy, yes.

SIMON: What keeps you going as a writer, do you think?

CHUTE: I guess it's kind of like burping or something - you just got to do it. I wasn't sure if I was going to - see, 'cause I don't do computer, and I have to pay someone to do the computer for me.

SIMON: Yeah.

CHUTE: It - you know, share my advance. And I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to sell another book after this one, but I already have been getting my desk cleared to start finishing up the other two manuscripts. So obviously, it's something I just have to do.

SIMON: Do you ever think about the people who read you?

CHUTE: If I thought that money was going to grow in a tree in my yard, just enough at least to get by, I wouldn't care if only 10 people read me. It doesn't matter that millions read as long as you share it with somebody. So I don't really think about readers or editors. You especially should never think of editors - especially never think about reviewers.

SIMON: Carolyn Chute, her new novel, "Treat Us Like Dogs And We Will Become Wolves." Thanks so much for being with us.

CHUTE: It was fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.