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Carol Hill Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Carol DeChellis, New Jersey, 1942. Education: At Chatham College, Pittsburgh, 1957-61, B.A. in history 1961. Career: Publicist, Crown Publishers, 1965-67, and Bernard Geis Associates, 1967-69, both New York; publicist, 1969-71, and editor, 1971-73, Pantheon Books, New York; publicity manager, Random House, New York, 1973-74; senior editor, William Morrow, publishers, New York, 1974-76; senior editor, editor-in-chief, vice-president, and publisher, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1976-79. Since 1980 full-time writer. Formerly, actress at Judson Poets Theatre, New York, and in summer stock, Gateway Playhouse, New Jersey. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow and Nesbit Associates, 598 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Jeremiah 8:20. New York, Random House, 1970.

Let's Fall in Love. New York, Random House, 1974; London, Quartet, 1975.

An Unmarried Woman (novelization of screenplay). New York, Avon, and London, Coronet, 1978.

The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1985; as Amanda and the Eleven Million Mile High Dancer, London, Bloomsbury, 1988.

Henry James' Midnight Song. New York, Poseidon Press, 1993.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Shameless Shiksa," in Playboy (Chicago), September 1969.

"Gone," in Viva (New York), November 1974.

"Lovers," in Viva (New York), April 1975.

Plays

Mother Loves (produced New York, 1967).

Other

Subsistence U.S.A., photographs by Bruce Davidson, edited by JamieShalleck. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1973.

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Manuscript Collections:

Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.

* * *

Carol Hill writes with a wit and sense of the absurd that some critics have likened to the bizarre humor found in the novels of Tom Robbins. Her characters are varied, genuine, and somewhat offbeat. The protagonists usually find themselves in absurd situations sometimes of their own making, but often coming as a surprise. Contemporary issues are interwoven in the plots, although they are not necessarily central to the stories.

In her first novel, Jeremiah 8:20, peace marchers protesting the war in Vietnam and problems of racial integration affect the rather unusual hero of this novel. Jeremiah Francis Scanlon, fat, balding, and 39, is a bookkeeper of mediocre abilities who has worked for the same company for almost 20 years. After years of living in the protective environment of his parents' suburban home he has taken the plunge and moved to New York City, not far from his place of employment. He rents a room in a boarding house that comes complete with a cast of strange and unusual characters. Hill's talent for delineating a varied array of individuals is evident in her description of Jeremiah, the social misfit; Miles, a part-time actor who specializes in female roles and is often seen prancing around the house in full costume and makeup; his friend Jocko, a pseudo-revolutionary and a cynic who excels in debate and delights in flustering his opponent. There are also two ladies: a prim old maid, and a wasp-tongued librarian who secretly yearns for Jocko. Although Jeremiah seems the most unlikely sort of protagonist to carry a novel, Hill makes us care for this pathetic, befuddled man who suffers great loneliness and despair. He does not, however, give up on life, but in a strangely courageous way keeps seeking an answer to his misery. Admittedly the answer he comes up with—that there is a secret held by Negroes that will end all his problems—seems absurd, but we have come to know Jeremiah so well that we can believe he would believe such nonsense.

The humor in Jeremiah is dark, though not oppressive. In Hill's next two novels the tone is lighter. Let's Fall in Love has a $10, 000-a-shot hooker caught up in a web of murder and intrigue. This book has plenty of sex, including some very strange forms of coupling, a considerable departure from her first novel (about which, she says, people complained because there was not enough sex). Let's Fall in Love offers Hill's usual humor, and satire that some readers may find shocking, others erotic. Although this novel sold well, in the author's own estimation it lacked the power of her first. With The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer Hill is back on form although writing in a very different vein from Jeremiah. She combines her flare for the comic with a layman's knowledge of physics, a concern for the environment, and a natural penchant for fantasy. And here again is a multitude of characters.

The heroine is Amanda Jaworski, pilot, particle physicist, ardent feminist (most of the time), America's leading lady astronaut, and free spirit who roller skates through the NASA complex in red and white striped non-regulation shorts. She lives with a cat named Schrodinger who spends 23 out of 24 hours in a catatonic state that Amanda believes must be a form of narcolepsy. Meanwhile Amanda, a champion of female rights, finds herself wildly in love with the ultimate macho man, Bronco McCloud. He was "devastating in the most literal sense of the word. It was quite exciting to be devastated by McCloud, and he knew it. His business was devastation not love. And this was why women adored him." Fortunately for Amanda there is another man in her life, Donald Hotchkiss, who is as masculine as Bronco, but capable of loving Amanda in a way she deserves to be loved. Love is an important theme in Hill's works: Jeremiah spent an entire novel in a desperate, futile search for it, while Amanda not only receives love in its many guises but returns it in abundance.

Bringing everything together is an intricate plot in which Amanda is selected to make an 18-month journey to Mars, but is diverted from this mission by the Great Cosmic Brain who kidnaps Schrodinger. The GCB is a disgustingly huge, bloated snake-like creature that discharges a foul odor with every exhalation. He is earth's creator and he is angry that humankind seems so ready to destroy itself either with nuclear weapons or pollution of the air and water. Amanda is helped in her search for Schrodinger by a tough-talking subatomic particle named Oozie. Their adventure in another dimension brings all Hill's imaginative skills to the fore. She amazes the reader with ever more exotic creatures and situations, culminating in a starry spin through space with the Dancer of the title. Throughout the story she intersperses quotes from scientists writing on the new physics which show how strange our world of reality can be (Paul Davies: "One of the more bizarre consequences of quantum uncertainty is that matter can appear more or less out of nowhere"). So perhaps the wild imaginings of Hill are not so farfetched after all.

Not only the writer named in the title of Henry James's Midnight Song, but Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Edith Wharton, Emperor Franz Josef, and a host of other real people appear in the story, a murder mystery set in Vienna in the early twentieth century. At one point Hill has playwright Arthur Schnitzler observe, in a comment that sums up much of the narrative, "Vienna lies like a dream, singing songs to us of our daylight selves. All masks and deception. Beautiful masks, but masks …. No one believes either in himself or in anything else, and in my opinion, they are quite right not to do so."

Hill's literary style is often blunt, filled with contemporary jargon, and always to the point. She demonstrates the feelings of her characters by letting the reader eavesdrop on internal conversations. In this way she shows the desperate unhappiness and bewilderment suffered by Jeremiah as well as the gutsy determination and deeply felt love that drive Amanda to the ends of the universe to save Schrodinger. Although the themes of her books have varied greatly, there is one element that permeates them all—her ability to portray the human condition in all of its terrible and wonderful ways, and to portray even the darkest moments with plenty of wit.

—Patricia Altner

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