November 01, 2006

Casual Dining, With Flair Dinner Series With Jennifer Egan

East End evenings can appear quiet if not pedestrian as the vestiges of seasonal commotion begin to fade.

A slower pace gives way to slower business and rather than stay beholden to the tour de force of the Hamptons' summer crowd, two local proprietors have sought to sustain strong commerce with a unique offering.

Alison Becker Hurt, of Alison Restaurant in Bridgehampton, and John Brancati, of East End Books in East Hampton, collaborated to infuse the casual dinner excursion with a little flair.

The pair is inviting the public to attend intimate book readings at Alison Restaurant while dining with a variety of authors.

"It offers a real alternative to staying at home getting out and meeting people with similar interests," said Brancati.

Christened the Author's Round Table Dinner Series, the events are usually held on Thursdays, and for $54, participants get a three-course meal, a reading by the author and an autographed first edition of his or her book.

"We've been looking for something fun to do that would work, that gets people out for the right reasons," said Hurt.

The initiative seems to be paying off, with the restaurant's business reportedly growing up to three times as much as on similar days without the series.

Round table subjects run the gamut from photography and cooking to fashion and fiction. The schedule includes photographer Eric Meola and author Richard Price, who will read from a new book he's writing out on the East End this winter.

On Friday, author Jennifer Egan will read from her new literary suspense novel, The Keep, at the author's round table series.

This is Egan's third novel and it offers a distinctive perspective on modern technology and its effect on how people relate to each other and their surroundings.

"I really see fiction as an opportunity to ask questions and raise issues rather than to answer questions. I think that one of the things I was interested in was the question of whether technology and the proliferation of virtual experience has changed our notion of what reality is," she said.

In The Keep, two cousins, scarred by a childhood prank, reunite 20 years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe. Marked by a violent history, the castle has its own haunting elements that interlace the past with the present. The ominous tone of the novel is cushioned by a love story, as this tale within a tale unfolds.

Egan draws parallels between the "supernatural experience, which I don't believe in but which consists of the sense of being surrounded by disembodied presences" and "telecommunications. It essentially has resulted in most of us being constantly surrounded by disembodied presences," she said, referring to email and cell phones in particular.

Many authors who have attained Egan's level of success discover a winning formula to tell their stories and stick to it. Egan finds this method disagreeable.

"The idea of formula is horrendous to me," she said. "The idea of indulging in repetition of any kind knowingly . . . that is the diametric opposite of what I want to do because I don't see any point."

With moxie and intense curiosity in the unknown, the author crafts a vastly different story each time. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, takes place in the 70s and recounts a young woman's attempt to learn more about her older sister's untimely death by retracing the journey she took through Europe. Egan's second novel, Look at Me, is set in the year 2000 in New York and Illinois and follows a model who survives a car crash that forever changes her appearance. This cultural satire addresses issues of identity and terrorism before the September 11 attacks.

The latter novel was a finalist in the 2001 National Book Award and The Invisible Circus was made into a motion picture starring Cameron Diaz that same year.

Egan's next novel will take place in New York City during World War II, extending to the present.

Setting is critical in constructing a story for the novelist. "I don't know why but I am a place-driven writer," she said. "And what that means is that that is what I start with, and I think what I like about that is that a place suggests a world and I like to feel that I'm entering a world that I've never been [in] before."

As a writer for the New York Times Magazine section, Egan has also found her journalism subjects inspiring. "I am directing all of it on some level, so not surprisingly there are connections between the things I'm interested in exploring as a journalist and the things I'm interested in writing about as a fiction writer."

Jennifer Egan will be reading from her novel, The Keep, at Alison Restaurant in Bridgehampton Friday at 7 p.m. Call 537-7100 or 324-8680 for reservations or more information.

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