Between the Lines: Our Lady of the Prairie

Jan 19, 2018

Thisbe Nissen
Credit Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

In her new novel, Thisbe Nissen delves deep into the midlife crisis of a 50-year-old woman. Yes, women have them, too. Our Lady of the Prairie (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) is Nissen’s third novel, along with a story collection and a cookbook.


“I wrote this book over such a long period of time,” Nissen says. “I started working on this book when I was in my very early thirties. I’m 45 now. Phillipa, the narrator and main character, in early drafts she was 57, and gradually, as I had to work things out over the 15 years I was working on the book, she became younger. So Phillipa is 50 now, in the year the novel takes place. We kind of grew together.”

Phillipa is a long-married theater professor, the mother of a daughter, and during a semester of teaching away from home has an affair. She's unable to get it out of her mind when she finally returns home for her daughter’s wedding. The novel opens with Phillipa’s husband, usually an easy-going fellow, giving his cheating wife a prolonged, sound spanking.

Credit Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“What this novel is about is one of the hardest questions for me to answer,” Nissen says. “In the very short version, it’s the story of a woman’s mid-life crisis. The present time of the story is 2004 in Iowa during the very contentious election when Kerry and Edwards were running against Bush, who was up for a second term. It’s a novel also about the relationships between mothers and daughters, which seems to be what I write about even when I don’t mean to write about it.”

Nissen is currently preparing for a national book tour to promote her book. She'll read from it at Bookbug on Oakland Drive in Kalamazoo on February 7.

Nissen is married to author Jay Baron Nicorvo. They live with their son in Battle Creek, where they raise chickens. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students at Western Michigan University.

Nissen has received fellowships from the James Michener-Copernicus Society, the University of Iowa, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony. She was the 19th Zale Writer-in-Residence at Tulane University. She's taught at Columbia University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Brandeis University, The New School's Eugene Lang College and in the low residency M.F.A. program at Pacific University.

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