Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 05/30/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Jane Hamilton

A FATEFUL DETOUR

A FUNNY THTNC HAPPENED ON THE way to New York City and a promised job reading manuscripts in the children's division at Dell Publishing, Jane Hamilton's first office job after graduating in 1979 from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

She stopped in Rochester, Wis. (pop. 436), to see a friend's apple orchard. The harvest was just beginning, and helping hands were needed. "I stayed for a couple of weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years," says Hamilton, 36, who during her arboreal labors met and married Robert Willard, one of the orchard's owners.

Hamilton, whose previous works include The Book of Ruth, is eager to dispel the notion that Prairie Junction is a barely disguised Rochester. Yes, both towns arc sparsely populated, close to Racine and have a large number of families that lived in the environs for generations, but, says Hamilton, "Prairie Junction is a conglomeration of many towns and a product of my imagination."

Hamilton is equally eager to dispel the notion that she is Alice, even though, like her protagonist, she lives in a 130-year-old ramshackle clapboard house next to the orchard and is—how to put this nicely—a slob of a housekeeper. "I'm a lot more social than Alice," says Hamilton, the mother of Benjamin, 9, and Hannah, 7. "I think I'm a bit peculiar in town because I have an urban sensibility and haven't lived here all my life, but when I go to the bank, unlike Alice, they don't slam the teller's window in my face." A pause. "Let's see what happens when the book comes out."

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