Books

the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Stories rooted in New England and magic

david wilson for the boston globe

The stories in “We Show What We Have Learned,” Clare Beams’s debut collection, often concern transformation, sometimes magical or even surreal. Many take place in classrooms — “a great setting for fiction,” according to Beams, a former high school English teacher on Cape Cod, because “the whole educational enterprise is to transform, to change kids and help them grow.”

One of the stories touches on the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. For Beams, who grew up in Newtown, Conn., the horror struck in “a place that I associated with childhood,” she said. “I didn’t any longer have any direct ties to Newtown. But it still left me reeling.”

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Revisiting her hometown in the wake of tragedy, now a teacher herself and on the verge of becoming a parent, the story meditates on pain, memory, and erasure.

It is also, like much of Beams’s work, informed by its New England setting. “The house that I grew up in was from the 1730s,” she said. “The floor in the basement was dirt. There were places where the floorboards, which were American chestnut, which is extinct now, were really wide — there were places where you felt like you might fall through the floor.”

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“I was always looking for secret passages. I was that kind of kid,” Beams added. “A lot of the books that I loved growing up involved something hidden or magical, or a little bit impossible.”

As a graduate student, Beams said, she eschewed magic to focus on realistic literature. “As a writer I lost touch with that for a while,” she said. “Or maybe it took me awhile to find my own kind of strangeness.”

Beams will read 7 p.m. Wednesday at Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Road, Newton.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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