In Christopher X. Shade’s The Good Mother of Marseille, it’s the summer of 2013, in the year of Marseille’s designation as the European Capital of Culture. Readers get a taste of this dangerous, impoverished yet seductive port city of France as they follow the interwoven stories of Americans who have come to wander and sightsee. Noémie, an anthropology student, wants to make the gritty graffiti-covered neighborhood of Cours Julien her home, but she’s running out of time, money, and her university sponsor’s patience.
Noémie watches over Corey, from New Jersey, who is an earlier version of her: also an anthropology student, he’s just getting started. But what he wants is very different. He searches the Marseille streets for what he needs from someone to love. In the old port, the wife of a small-town Alabama couple presses to see all the sights while her husband is losing his vision to an eye disease. Noémie intersects with everyone—has she stolen their passports? A Colorado man with late-stage cancer and fear of the unexpected falls in love with a French woman he meets at a café on the old port. In Marseille and then in Paris, a woman helps her journalist husband figure out what is happening in his head as he experiences a peculiar stress disorder. Hovering on the fringe are the Marseillais, the shopkeepers, artists, café waiters. Who among them will save Noémie? To the rhythm of European street life, each American puts a Marseille experience in the context of their own histories. It’s a love letter to the turbulence of Marseille, and to the turbulence to be found under the surface of each of us, the pounding hearts and jarring fears.
Praise for The Good Mother of Marseille:
“A veritable bouillabaisse of a novel, simmering with intrigue and steaming with surprises.” —Lorea Canales, author of Becoming Marta and Los Perros
“A remarkable work of imagination, a debut novel that not only introduces us to a gifted writer of fiction, but offers a beguiling glimpse into the zeitgeist of a generation’s appetite for the exotic and the mysterious. In the Hemingway tradition, its many linked stories gel into one compelling story of Americans abroad. Shade’s sensitivity toward his characters is infectious, and, quite frankly, unforgettable.” —Philip Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author most recently of Luxury and The Wherewithal: A Novel in Verse
“Marseille with its hot dangerous streets, its bars, and beautiful churches becomes a character in this fresh and original novel by Christopher X. Shade. Here we glimpse anew intriguing and moving facets of human nature so skillfully and believably portrayed.” —Sheila Kohler, author of 13 books, most recently a memoir, Once We Were Sisters
“Well-developed characters, finding themselves in a landscape that is both beautiful and troubling, come to Marseille in search of many things—a chance to prove themselves, an adventure, a last hurrah. But what they find within is deeply more meaningful and surprising.” —Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels and The Living Infinite
“The Good Mother of Marseille is a beautiful and memorable debut, a melancholy tale of both lost and found, a love letter to the night-lights of France, a movable feast for this 21st century.” —Scott Cheshire, author of High as the Horses’ Bridles
“No single viewpoint can take in a city like Marseille, marked up by too many cultures to count. So Christopher X. Shade provides us with a kaleidoscope, quite ingenious, in which shapes and colors young and old, native and foreign, exotic and run of the mill, tumble across one another. I dare you to look away.” —John Domini, author of MOVIEOLA!
“The Good Mother of Marseille is a luminous, taut, utterly absorbing first novel. Part American expat novel à la The Sun Also Rises, the cast of characters also includes American tourists and French natives parallel playing out their dreams and sorrows on the stage of this gritty French port city. Shade is a compassionate observer of the human dilemma, his feel for place commanding, his story first-rate. I read it in one gulp.” —Lesley Dormen, author of The Best Place to Be
“The Good Mother of Marseille by Christopher X. Shade is a painfully beautiful novel, infused with peril and propelled by suspense. In powerful prose, Shade renders a complex mosaic of a city’s underbelly. These interlocking portraits of characters on the edge, barely hanging on, are filled with struggle—people who feel very real, confronting loss, doubtful futures, and their own existential fears.” —Clifford Garstang, author of What the Zhang Boys Know and In an Uncharted Country
“Using Marseille, France, as his canvas, Shade paints a cast of characters who, by their human interactions, invite the reader to repeatedly ask: Is it choice or fate that “leads us to the places we don’t expect to be?” If you want to delve into what it means to be human, when so many are facing loneliness and loss, then The Good Mother of Marseille is your invitation.” —Elena Georgiou, The Immigrant’s Refrigerator and Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants
“Shade has quite the gift for moving seamlessly between characters and voices, together creating a remarkable chorus.” —Sameer Pandya, author of The Blind Writer
“The Good Mother of Marseille feels more like the work of a seasoned writer than that of a debut novelist. Christopher X. Shade gives us characters of such depth, stories of such sensitivity, and a portrait of Americans abroad—in that historical moment just before 2016—that is ruthless in its honesty. International in scope, intimate in detail, The Good Mother of Marseille pursues the question: where do you go when home no longer is home?” —Joseph Salvatore, author of To Assume a Pleasing Shape
“How to build a city? Shade’s Marseille is haunted by visitors and voyeurs, and is held in place by the tension between immersion and flight. In arresting, beautifully surprising prose, Shade reveals the city in precise detail, while also demonstrating the essential elusiveness and risks of storytelling itself. This is a powerful and original novel.” —Aurelie Sheehan, author of Once Into the Night and Demigods on Speedway
“Breaking the illusions of a romantic Marseille, Shade paints this port city from the inside out, bringing to surface the truth found behind dark allies. The Good Mother of Marseille weaves a cast of characters who contemplate what it means to dream while having to bear witness to recurring nightmares. Arranged in a mosaic of episodes, these characters are broken, tormented, searching for a fading moral compass. The question that motivates them, that drives this intricate and riveting display of craft and language, is always: What does it take, what does it mean to stay alive?” —Mario Alberto Zambrano, author of Lotería
About the Author:
Christopher X. Shade is co-founder and co-editor of Cagibi, at cagibilit.com, a journal of poetry and prose. His stories and book reviews have appeared widely, and he has won story awards including the 2016 Writers at Work fellowship competition. He teaches fiction and poetry writing at The Writers Studio. Raised in the South, he now lives with his wife in New York City.
Christopher X. Shade is author of the novel The Good Mother of Marseille. His latest is the book of poems Shield the Joyous, about the loss of loved ones to the disease of addiction. His stories and book reviews have appeared widely, and he has won story awards including the Writers at Work fellowship competition in 2016. He is co-founder and co-editor of Cagibi, at cagibilit.com, a journal of poetry and prose. He teaches fiction and poetry writing at The Writers Studio. Raised in the South, he now lives in New York City. Learn more at ChristopherXShade.com.