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‘Hunger and Thirst’ satisfies

Catherine LutzSnowmass Sun correspondent

Area readers will recognize her without knowing it. In ads for BJ Adams and Co. and in that real estate firm’s award-winning publications, a conversational, comforting, simple voice talks about what makes this place special.Author Daniela Kuper, who lives in Maine but writes for BJ Adams (and hence visits the Roaring Fork Valley often), has found an outlet for her unique voice in her debut novel, “Hunger and Thirst,” which she will read from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Explore Booksellers in Aspen.”Hunger and Thirst” has garnered the praise of high-profile authors such as Joyce Carol Oates; it has been nominated for five prestigious awards, including the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Jewish Book Award. And it’s the most amazingly written book this reader has come across in years. The story of the trials and tribulations of a Jewish family in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago in the 1950s, “Hunger and Thirst” brings you to that time, allows you to taste, smell and feel all the details of the neighborhood, its ethnic shops and freezing winter days. You laugh and cry with the characters, Buddy and Irwina Trout and their daughter, Joan, who struggles with, then attempts to fix, her parents’ unraveling marriage. You meet colorful characters, like the gossipy “women-in-the-building,” who envy yet detest Irwina Trout, and the aptly named Miss Fitt, an eccentric loner who takes Joan under her wing.Kuper, a successful advertising copy writer and former ad agency CEO, several years ago “felt this incredible urge to get back into writing, and I arranged everything to do it.” Then it was a conversation about nightstands with BJ Adams and serendipity that kicked off the nine-year process that would become “Hunger and Thirst.” The book – in parts stark, blunt and real and at other times hung with the aura of the surreal – took elements of Kuper’s own childhood growing up in Rogers Park. But the characters and the story haunted Kuper, just like the urge to leave her 20-plus-year career in Boulder haunted her until the day she made the leap.And “This is what came out, that’s the story that wanted to come, these characters wouldn’t leave me alone,” she said.The leap from ad copy writing to fiction wasn’t as fantastical as some would imagine, said Kuper, who has been writing for BJ Adams for a dozen years. In one of her first projects, she said, Adams “gave me permission to write for her as if it were fiction.” Now the two are in the habit of taking long walks together to “feed the creativity. Then we spread everything out over the kitchen table and play with ideas,” Kuper said. “There’s no definitive line between the different types of work that you do,” she said.In the following excerpt from “Hunger and Thirst,” Kuper describes how the working-class women of Rogers Park feel when they visit the Trouts’ dress shop – Irwina Trout’s pride and joy, obsession, and one of the ultimate cracking points of her marriage.”They took off everything except brassieres and girdles, soft and giving as their bellies stretched from child. When they looked in the mirror they did not see the rubbery white flesh fighting to get out, they saw Mama’s hand-rolled seams. And they turned. Slow, eyes low as a virgin, bedroom mirror their only witness. They pulled against the passing of time to make their backs go straight. They pinched cheeks, withdrew bellies, unpinned hair, fluffed bosoms, tipped the bottle, and drank what was left of their beauty.”