Kitty Burns Florey

Souvenir of Cold Springs

"It would be best if you just went and read the book now. It's a shame to spoil the pleasure Florey offers in her graceful revelations....Florey has a knack for describing women in precarious mental states, women with skewed realities, women who seem capable of making anything possible in their minds with all the attendant strength and vulnerability such an act entails.... [S]he charts the subtle inheritance of events, how a motion made 50 years ago can still be casting ripples in a family, through ties that are not necessarily blood but just as binding."
--Ashley Warlick, The Hartford Courant

"The novel's achievement is that it presents several generations of the family with keen insight, tracing their specific eccentricities and shedding light on family dynamics in general. . . . Florey's touch is light, and she inhabits each character so fully that the reader settles into each new perspective with ease. . . . Readers might feel sorry to leave Florey's fictional family behind."
--Sarah Coleman, Newsday

ABOUT THE NOVEL: I used to spend a fair amount of time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one bright spring day, walking down Mass. Ave, I saw a young woman dressed head to toe in black, looking in the window of a shop that sold quilts. Her clothes were heavy and hot-looking but not dowdy either, and there was something about her that seemed infinitely melancholy, and when I saw her I was reminded me of something a friend had told me back in college in the Sixties, that when she came back from her Puerto Rican abortion she dressed in mourning for months afterward. Somehow, as writers do, I put the two things together and imagined an entire life for the young woman looking in the window: out of that came the first chapter of Souvenir of Cold Springs.

That was in, I think, 1991. I thought of it as a short story that needed a lot of work, and for a long time I didn’t write any more. But gradually I began to think about something I’d wanted to write about for a long time – a family tragedy that took place in 1938, when my father’s sister, my aunt Catherine Burns (the most beautiful person, by far, that my family has produced until my daughter was born) and her fiancé Martin Newell went ice-fishing on Lake Ontario, up in Syracuse where I’m from, and froze to death when an unexpected blizzard came up. They were found far out in the middle of the wake, and it was assumed that, instead of walking toward shore when it began to snow, they walked further out, confused by the swirling snow and the wind. He had given her his coat. They were found clinging together. My family’s history is full of sad events – all family histories are, I’m sure – but this one had always touched me. My mother saved all the newspaper accounts of the story – it was front-page news in my home town, for days, until they were found – and those old yellowed pages with their photos of the missing pair, and Marty’s dog, who had made his way back to shore, were part of my childhood.

So, over many years, I concocted a tale that would include a young Harvard student in her mourning clothes in the 1980s, and Aunt Kay and Marty dead on the ice in the 1930s. Gradually everything that came in between, none of which was based on anything but my own imaginings, came to life. And how the novel came to focus on an elderly Lesbian ex-schoolteacher named Nell, who isn’t based on anything or anyone I’ve ever known, is still a mystery to me.

As for the reverse chronology, I tried it both ways, over and over, and finally knew I had to make it go backward until the final layer, the shard of truth that started everything, is uncovered – and I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to write a book that way, or how hard it was, but how satisfying in the end.