Alice Elliot Dark’s second novel, stock market point (Scribner/Rucci, July), tackles topical themes – feminism, aging, environmentalism – but the center is timeless: a story of friendship between women. Agnès and Polly are lifelong best friends who have followed very different paths. Polly is married with children, respectful towards her husband, affluent; Agnès is a freelance, best-selling writer of feminist children’s books and author of a literary series for adults written under a pseudonym.
Now 80, Agnes battles her health and writer’s block and convinces Polly to join her in preserving Fellowship Point, a section of coastal Maine land that has belonged to the two women’s families for generations. The situation creates a litmus test for relationships with family, friends and community, and the enduring bond of these two women is a lens with which to examine the arc of feminism through the 20th century.
stock market point is an immersive, intimate and modern take on a 19th century novel – a literary page-turner that hits all the highlights of the long, intertwined lives of two friends.
The story of the book is its own story. Worldwide rights were sold to Simon & Schuster in 2002 based on a partial manuscript of a novel about a woman’s book club. Dark had just published his first novel, Think of England, following two collections of stories. She wrote the novel under contract, originally called The book groupbut she says when Jane Austen’s Book Club came out, “It didn’t seem like a good idea to have a second one so I put the book away. I started another novel but couldn’t figure it out and I put that one aside too.
Then, Dark recalled, in 2011 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, “I had hit a wall and sat in a chair for many hours looking out the window when a figure came towards me. I wrote pages that didn’t end up in the book, but other characters arrived. When Agnes arrived she was larger than life and the energy shifted.
The story, Dark says, was always about Maine, where she spent the summers and where her mother had a house, and she adds, “I always write about women. I’ve always been interested in the lives of women, especially older women. I didn’t think about it until someone asked me, “What is your book about?” And I said, ‘Two old women.’ And then I thought, two old women, that’s not the thing in popular fiction! But even at 80, they are still changing, growing. I am interested in all aspects of women, as children, as young women, as older women. The whole life cycle of women fascinates me.
Meanwhile, Dark’s agent, Henry Dunow of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner, who says he has known her for 25 years “as a writer, agent and friend”, tells me that “Alice got a publisher after the another and, for a long time, no editor. There were a lot of false starts.” When Jon Karp became editor at S&S in 2010, Dunow asked him to “keep the faith, be patient, believe in this author”. Karp did, and Dunow says it is “one of the happiest publishing stories of belief, loyalty and fairness”.
Dunow saw pieces of Camaraderie while Alice worked there for the next 10 years. (“Henry bothered me once, in 2010,” Dark says). In 2018, she had a 1,400-page draft, which she cut to 800 pages and gave to Dunow, who felt it was a masterpiece. He contacted S&S Editorial Director Marysue Rucci and asked if she would “watch over it”.
Rucci agreed with Dunow on Camaraderie being a masterpiece. They revised the original contract, “rearranging the elements,” she says. When Rucci received his own imprint at Scribner in August 2021, stock market point went with her.
“We just kept hoping that Alice would deliver at some point,” Rucci says. “I left S&S, came back and in 2018 Henry called me. ‘I have good news!’ What did he say?’ I asked. ‘A manuscript of Alice. The only problem is that it’s 800 pages.’
Rucci was intrigued when Dunow offered him the book; she has always been a fan of Dark’s writing. “We cut 250 pages,” says Rucci. “Alice is an amazing editor and so gracious. Right from the start, you know you’re with someone with extraordinary skills. When I got the print, I was hoping she would move in with me. I thought it was the perfect book to anchor the inaugural list: conservation ideas, possibilities, or not, for women. It is a beautiful social criticism and such a beautiful friendship between these two women. People said, ‘Finally! I can’t wait to give this to my best friend. ”
Dark didn’t know Rucci, but when she received a letter from her stating how much she loved the book, Dark said, “It was amazing, exciting and rewarding and a huge relief. Marysue responded with such enthusiasm. It was great to work with her and I was very happy to go to Scribner with her.
Although Dark says she started stock market point before the Ferrante books, she was excited that her character Agnes is an anonymous author like Ferrante. “I could see the reactions,” she said. “It was timely.”
Dark has also done a lot of research on women giving land and land preservation. “They weren’t strongly attached to land ownership like men,” she explains, “and didn’t have control of the land until the early 20th century, but they felt like protecting it. “. She cites Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, who bought land across the United States, including Maine, and donated more than 87,000 acres to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument established in 2016.
Dunow is calling stock market point “a 19th century novel whose twists and turns would make Charles Dickens blush – an old-fashioned story but very contemporary in its themes and concerns”, while Dark tells me she loves 19th century novels and wanted write one but make it modern.
The idea of modern does not follow when I ask for his email.
She laughs. “I’m one of three people who still have AOL,” she said. “It’s a badge of honor!”
A version of this article originally appeared in the 03/28/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: The links that unite