Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)
Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Fiction)
This novel-in-progress explores the nature of memory, grief, and the complexities of coming of age. Through the voice of the narrator, Ada Strunsky, who is by turns both prickly and tender, we are drawn into the world of San Francisco at the end of the 19th century, a time of social and economic upheaval, when monopolists made fortunes and oyster thieves roamed the Bay. Through an associative structure, the novel seeks to capture the feeling of memory, which is often non-linear, more impressionistic than logical. As Ada seeks to untangle her complicity in crimes both literal and emotional, she takes the reader through her formative years, exploring questions of identity, internalized misogyny, ambition, and how beholden we are to our own past.
Ada Strunsky is not who you think she is. Middle-aged, solitary, and friendlier to animals than to people, Ada harbors secrets from her past. When a new neighbor who is lonely in her marriage foists herself on Ada, she finds herself drawn back, recalling her troubled formative years.
Ada begins her story in 1894. Unemployment and economic hardship are widespread. The Gilded Age has made fortunes for the few. Social reform movements are on the rise. Young people are rebelling against the strictures and social mores of the Victorian Era, forging hard-earned identities by casting themselves in roles inspired by the newborn mythology of the American West. In San Francisco, Ada is nineteen years old and alone.
The daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, Ada is adrift. Her father is confined to a sanitarium. Her sister is newly married to a louse. Her mother left when Ada was fifteen, leaving a cryptic legacy of nascent feminism. Determined to forge her own path distinct from her family, Ada sets off for Oakland. There, she falls into the rough-hewn and colorful company of the oyster thieves. There is Allen Wade, huge and prone to violence. There is French Frank, jocular and jealous. There is Mavis, the so-called Queen of the Oyster Thieves, a woman of puzzling contradictions: whimsical and hard-edged, dreamy and sneakily clever. In her newfound life, Ada carouses, steals oysters by moonlight, and falls in love with the ambitious and mercurial Ellis. Ada and Ellis form a close and contentious bond. Both intellectual, both self-taught, and both seeking to “live, not merely to exist,” Ada and Ellis find an uncommon connection that is as powerful as it is destabilizing. As their affair intensifies, so too does Ada’s sense of having come “unmoored.” An act of betrayal leads to dire consequences that forever alter their lives, consequences that ripple across time and haunt Ada still.
Biskar, Natanya, "I Used to Weave Crowns: A Novel" (2022). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 1917.
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