Bookstore Event: Lindsay Stern, "The Study of Animal Languages," In Conversation with Lori Gruen

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
7:00 PM (ET)
Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore
Event Type
Bookstore Event
Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore

 Promising new voice in fiction Lindsay Stern’s debut novel is a delicious sendup of academia at an elite New England college, and a dark and engaging comedy of errors in the vein of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.

Stern was initially inspired to write The Study of Animal Languages while in college, when she entered her professor’s office and noticed that, although no one was speaking, the lie detector he kept in jest on the cabinet across from his desk was lighting up. The machine was picking up the melody of an apparently dishonest bird outside the window. She was struck by our limited understanding of the meanings of these birdsongs — noises we tend to tune out as meaningless — and, by extension, our sometimes absurdly limited interpretations of our own language. The result is the story of Ivan and Prue, a married couple of professors — purported experts in communication — who nonetheless hardly seem capable of discussing even the weather with one another.

The trouble starts immediately, when the impatient and uptight Ivan drives to Vermont to pick up his unpredictable and un-medicated bipolar father-in-law, Frank. Free-spirited Prue, Frank’s daughter, is a pioneer in the emerging field of biolinguistics, and she’s slated to give what everyone hopes will be a tenure-inducing lecture on birdsong. The married pair of opposites has thus far managed to weather their differences, but the perfect storm of Frank’s erratic behavior, a surprising lecture from Prue implicating her colleagues, and her infatuation with a novel written by the college’s handsome new writer-in-residence drives Ivan to untoward actions and threatens to upend the life he and Prue have built together.

The Study of Animal Languages is a novel about the limitations of language, the fragility of love, and the ways we misunderstand each other and ourselves. Stern’s is a dazzling new voice, insightful and entertaining—one that left me questioning every conversation I’ve ever had.
Lindsay Stern is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the recipient of a Watson Fellowship and an Amy Award from Poets & Writers magazine. She is currently pursuing a PhD in comparative literature at Yale University. The Study of Animal Languages is her first novel.

Lori Gruen is the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Science in Society at Wesleyan University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies. Her work lies at the intersection of ethical and political theory and practice, with a particular focus on issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical investigations, including women, people of color, incarcerated people, non-human animals. She is currently working to unpack carceral logics by thinking through a complex set of issues like dignity, self-respect, empathy, disposability, and hope and hopelessness. She is the author of Ethics and Animals and Entangled Empathy, among others, and the editor of many books, most recently Critical Terms for Animal Studies and Animaladieswith Fiona Probyn-Rapsey.

Lindsay Stern
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