Released in September, The Chocolate Money is the debut novel of Ashley Prentice Norton. A graduate of the NYU MFA program, the NYU Bookstore was a natural stop on the release reading circuit. The turnout for Norton’s reading was on the lighter side allowing for an intimate setting with the author.
She began by discussing how the novel came about: scenes of dialogue. Workshops favor shorter form fiction, though she much prefers the novel length manuscript. Short stories, she says, are a very different type of writing. She dislikes investing in characters only to see them erased after twenty pages, compelled to create new characters with each story.
Norton begins reading from a chapter entitled “The Hangover-Brunch Cruise Party.” Her performance seems stressed, and while reading the narrative voice, this strain undermines the written prose that is otherwise playful, mischievous, and sordid. Nipples, lingerie, pubic hair are all mentioned in the chapter alone.
There is a giddy arrogance to the book’s narrative voice that ends up propelling the text along. The prose is high energy. Keep reading, the narrator insists. There is levity too, a sense that the narrator understands the world has bigger problems than a cruise ship themed party.
Norton seems most comfortable in her reading of character dialogue. She reads them naturally, speaks their voices with casual confidence. Nuances emerge. These may be scenes birthed as exercises in dialogue, but it is the dialogue that makes the scene. The character’s voice sets the mood. These are characters infused with hubris and the audience cannot help but love to hate them.
When she concludes reading, she converses about the process, lauds her experience with the writing program and friends who have helped her edit. Find a community, she offers as advice, don’t believe in writer’s block.
She has given readings across Chicago where much of the book has been set as well as across New England. Now, back in the city, the reading tour seems to be winding down, though she mentions with excitement that several book clubs have asked her to attend. Briefly, she notes that work on a second novel has begun involving an eighteen year old narrator.