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Marianne Wiggins Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1947. Agent: Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Suite 2106, 250 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10107, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Babe. New York, Avon, 1975.

Went South. New York, Delacorte, 1980.

Separate Checks. New York, Random House, 1984.

John Dollar. New York, Harper, 1989.

Eveless Eden. New York, HarperCollins, 1995.

Almost Heaven. New York, Crown, 1998.

Short Stories

Herself in Love and Other Stories. New York, Viking, 1987.

Learning Urdu. New York, Harper, 1990.

Bet They'll Miss Us When We're Gone. New York, HarperCollins, 1991.

Other

Introduction, Other Edens by Nick Waplington. New York, Aperture, 1994.

Contributor, From the Heart: The Power of Photography, A Collector's Choice by Adam D. Weinberg. New York, Aperture, 1998.

* * *

Few would describe Marianne Wiggins's writing as the gentle, delicate sort. Her fierce, satiric wit and bold characters are legendary practice throughout her four novels and two works of short fiction. Wiggins seems to relish the edgy, bizarre characters wielding their way through divorces and odd relationships. The American writer who has spent a great deal of her writing life in Britain, richly straddles the complex personal lives of her characters with political climates of colonialism, patriarchy, and supremacy. These strong characters often get caught in the maelstrom of these conditions, and try to extract themselves from the ensuing confinements.

Wiggins's early books captured some attention for their quirky-traited characters. Her first book Babe, was published in 1975, and set the tone for a future emphasis on edgy dispositions. Maggie Novak has a bizarre tendency to call everyone Babe, much to the discomfort of her lover. Novak is a divorcee who also seems overly impressed by her own observations. While Novak's circumstances may not be the best, her vitality as a character, and her assuredness create an energy that is infectious. But it's the mix of character tendencies—habits and self-indulgences—that make Novak compelling, and seem to be a foundation of character complexity that Wiggins relies on in future novels.

Went South is another story of problematic love, but in this novel the central character, Megan Rosen, suffers from too much comfort. Rosen lives on a New Jersey mini-farm with her child and her husband. But her husband is obsessed with money, and Rosen begins to see her life as much like the mini-farm—a miniature existence without much in the way of challenge. Her ennui comes to a climax and Megan, the woman destined for a life of fading beauty, finds herself wrenched from her own fate, and heading south for adventure.

Wiggins's interest in bold characters sometimes gets her into trouble. Separate Checks was judged by critics as writing that pushed too far into the extreme. The novel involves Ellery McQueen, a thirty-three-year-old actress who writes down experiences as a sort of therapy. But when the reader learns there are no men in the McQueen family because they have supposedly been eaten by the women of this matriarchy, it is easy to see Ellery is not the only one in need of therapy. Ellery was named after her mother, a mystery writer. The book is at times funny, but sometimes muddled down with too many risks. The title comes from the Last Supper cafe, where the waiter asks if a meal will be on separate checks.

After two praised story collections (Herself in Love and Bet They'll Miss Us When We're Gone) Wiggins went on to write her most hailed book to date: John Dollar. This book has often been compared to Lord of the Flies, except with a gender switch. In the novel, Charlotte Lewes has lost her husband in World War I and travels to Rangoon, Burma, to offer an act of Christian service. She begins to teach there, but service isn't her only interest. Charlotte also takes on sailor John Dollar as a lover. In a trip to the Amdaman Islands with schoolgirls, an accident leaves them stranded on an island. Dollar, who is a god-like figure to the girls, is left paralyzed. But the girls' descent from initial observance sinks quickly into cannibalism, and subversion. Critics agree that this devouring of John Dollar satirically pokes fun at colonialism and Western dominance. The book's large acclaim speaks to a more streamlined plot in John Dollar than in previous Wiggins works, and a graceful language contrasting barbarous events.

Wiggins's most recent book, Almost Heaven was published in 1998 to a mixed response. Holden Garfield, a war corespondent still recovering from his stint in Bosnia flees back to the United States and finds a woman suffering from traumatic amnesia after the loss of her family. Melanie also happens to be the sister of Holden's friend Noah John. The name is a satirical hint at the cause of fierce weather in the United States. The book's atmospheric focus touches on the chaotic conditions of our current world political order.

—Maureen Aitken

[back] Eric E. Wiggin (1939–) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

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