Marcy Dermansky Recommends

“I was thirteen the first time I read Frost in May by English writer Antonia White. I can’t even say how many times I have read this perfect novel. First published in 1933, and then rediscovered, reprinted in 1982 by Virago Modern Classics (a beautiful and unfortunately defunct press devoted to restoring the works of women authors), Frost in May tells the story of Nanda Grey, nine years old, who is sent by her convert Catholic father to receive her education at the formidable Convent of the Five Wounds.

Young Nanda is just my kind of protagonist: introverted and smart and painfully sensitive, always uneasy with herself and her circle of friends. She is also a tormented writer. At thirteen, Nanda secretly begins to write her first novel. When her work in progress in discovered by the nuns, the consequences for the aspiring author verge on tragic. Antonia White’s prose is both spare and engrossing. Her depiction of the convent’s rites, the kindness and the cruelty of the nuns, is positively fascinating, providing entry into a truly foreign universe.

White, who was plagued by both mental illness and writer’s block, continued Nanda’s story with three additional novels. Nanda Grey becomes Clara Batchelor. These additional volumes (“The Lost Traveler,” “The Sugar House,” and “Beyond the Glass”) also deserve to be read and reread. I certainly have.”

Marcy is the author of Twins, a MacDowell Fellow and the winner of the 2002 Smallmouth Press Andre Dubus Novella Award, and the 1999 Story Magazine Carson McCullers short story prize. Her stories have been published in numerous literary journals, including McSweeney’s, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Indiana Review, and included in the anthology Love Stories: A Literary Companion to Tennis. She is a film critic for and belongs to the New York Online Film Critics Society. She lives in Astoria, New York. She is not an identical twin.