CORVALLIS, Ore. - Keith Scribner's debut novel, "The GoodLife," received widespread critical acclaim and has been optioned for a film with some major Hollywood talent waiting in the wings.
The Oregon State University faculty member hasn't succumbed to the sophomore jinx, either. Scribner's second novel, "Miracle Girl," was released this month in paperback by Penguin Putnam, Inc.'s Riverhead Books and already is stacking up accolades, from the Washington Post to the Stanford Review.
It is all "rather humbling," says Scribner, an assistant professor of English at OSU who began writing essays several years ago while in Japan teaching English.
"I made enough money in Japan that I was able to travel throughout much of the world - India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere - and when I came back to Stanford for a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, I thought I would work as a carpenter and write novels," he said. "Teaching college students was never really on my mind."
Scribner's new book, "Miracle Girl," introduces John Fitzgerald Kennedy Quinn, a real estate buyer and seller for the Catholic diocese in New York's Hudson City who was raised on Watergate and Vietnam and nurtured on the materialism of the 1980s and '90s. A skeptic of miracles, Quinn believes that a beautiful young Vietnamese-American woman named Sue Phong - who appears to local residents in dreams and cures their ailments - is a fraud. But when he finds himself face-to-face with the enigmatic woman, his life begins to change.
Washington Post Book World called the book a "fascinating novel (that) explores how greed can compromise men of (supposed) faith." Publisher's Weekly called it "funny, gritty and tender…this well-crafted second novel demonstrates Scribner's solid, nourish accessibility and talent for detailed characterizations." The Baltimore Sun described it as "spirited and often poignant."
Scribner says Quinn isn't exactly an autobiographical character, but admits that he shares some of the same background, upbringing and personality.
"I wanted to write about a character of this generation - my generation - whose first political memories are the Vietnam War and Watergate, who grew up with divorced parents and social upheaval, and who as a consequence has very little faith in family, in love, in any institutions like marriage, government or religion," Scribner said.
"I wanted to see if he'd change in the face of various conflicts. Everyone in the novel is, in some way, suffering from a crisis of faith and everyone is looking for spiritual meaning in their lives - usually in the wrong places."
Scribner's debut novel, "The GoodLife," was inspired by the real life kidnapping of an Exxon executive. The fictionalized account of that, he says, was his description of "the American dream gone awry and the sense of entitlement that comes with it."
The San Francisco Chronicle called Scribner the "literary love child of Truman Capote and Robert Altman." The Baltimore Sun likened the novel to John Cheever's "Bullet Park." Suddenly, Scribner was on the literary map.
Next on tap may be Hollywood. "The GoodLife" not only has been optioned, it is moving closer to securing a production date with some top talent showing interest - though Scribner said he prefers keeping those names to himself for now. "I don't want to jinx anything," he said with a laugh.
"Miracle Girl" may be next. With its rich characterization and issues of faith and redemption, it could prove equally attractive to Hollywood. Scribner says he isn't writing for film, however.
"I'm a writer," he said, "and I hope that readers are entertained by a spirited, honest, timely and sometimes funny story. I hope that 'Miracle Girl' can sort through the complicated morality of our time - and the confusion and disillusionment that so many of us face."