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'The Mutual Admiration Society' Returns Readers to 1950s Milwaukee


Milwaukee writer Lesley Kagen has been a regular guest on Lake Effect ever since her first novel, Whistling in the Dark, was published a decade ago. In these past 10 years, Kagen has published another 7 novels, most set in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

In her most recent book, The Mutual Admiration Society, the Finley sisters, Tess and Birdie, are back - solving mysteries, negotiating their 1959 Milwaukee west side neighborhood, and trying to stay out of trouble. The sisters are stealing dealing with the loss of their father, something that Kagen experienced as a young child. 

"When a child loses a parent the profound sense that the world is not a safe place becomes imbedded in a child... It leaves you very suspicious of the safety - your own safety and the safety of others. And that is the whole kind of premise that Tessie operates on," says Kagen. 

It was a difficult book for Kagen to write, in part because children deal with tragedy very differently than adults. "There are a lot of books that feature child narrators. There's, you know, YA and middle-grade books, of course. But then to write about adult subject matter, in a child's voice, as a child would view what is going on, can get pretty tricky," she says. "Because of the way children's minds work, the way they frame trauma is very different from the way adults frame trauma."

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.