Maggie Shipstead’s novel “Nice Circle” explores new worlds

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On the Shelf

Nice Circle

By Maggie Shipstead
Knopf: 608 pages, $29

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Within the seven years it took to jot down “Nice Circle,” Maggie Shipstead’s third novel, the California native befriended worry. As a substitute of dodging the sensation, as she normally did, she went straight in for the bear hug.

“By nature, I’m a reasonably fearful individual,” Shipstead stated, talking on video from her dad and mom’ home in San Diego. “I used to be a extremely shy baby. I didn’t crave novelty or journey of any type.” She cultivated, nonetheless, a number of obsessions: “What seventh grader doesn’t love paleoanthropology and draw bizarre sketches of human fossils in a pocket book for no cause?”

Domesticating worry modified Shipstead’s life. She grew to become a daredevil world traveler who reveled in her independence. Her childhood enthusiasms had been retooled into grown-up passions. All of it might serve her within the greatest problem of her profession up to now: taming the once-unwieldy novel out subsequent week.

“Nice Circle” was a departure for Shipstead, whose 2012 debut, “Seating Preparations,” had all of the “bells and smells” of Excessive WASP: A rich brood tries to not unravel throughout their eldest daughter’s marriage ceremony on Cape Cod. The “good summer time romp” (per the Washington Submit) and winner of an L.A. Occasions E-book Prize for first fiction appeared to seal Shipstead’s status as an impeccable craftswoman of upmarket seashore reads.

For her 2014 follow-up, “Astonish Me,” Shipstead, then barely out of her 20s, traded the financial 1% for the dancing elite, tracing the repercussions of an American ballerina’s affair with a Baryshnikov-like celebrity. The scope and construction of “Astonish Me” presaged the dimensions of “Nice Circle” however the stakes in her new e book are greater — for its heroine, actually life or dying.

Author Maggie Shipstead crouches in a crowd of King penguins.

Maggie Shipstead with King penguins in Macquarie Island, Australian subantarctic territory.

(Maggie Shipstead)

Ending the e book generally felt that method too. “It wasn’t a driving obsession,” the writer clarified in her reserved and targeted method, however one thing “I simply needed to see via out of sheer doggedness.” At 600 pages, “Nice Circle” spans a century, in addition to the North and South Poles and a minimum of three continents (and plenty of islands) in between. In 2016, about two years and 400 pages into the primary draft, with no e book contract in sight, Shipstead realized that there was no method out however via. A 12 months and three months later, she despatched 980 pages to her agent, her first reader.

A lifetime later, Shipstead, now 38, was tending to the publicity stage of “Nice Circle” after we spoke. Her breath ragged, her blond ponytail slipping, she had simply completed stacking 214 containers crammed with 2,500 copies of her e book in her dad and mom’ storage. (The Atwater Village condominium she shares together with her canine, Gus, couldn’t accommodate them). She had 10 days to signal and return them — a process that, pre-pandemic, she would’ve achieved on e book tour. This time, all her occasions are on-line.

“Nice Circle” nudged itself into existence in 2012, when Shipstead, removed from her quiet upbringing in Coto de Caza (now greatest identified for “The Actual Housewives of Orange County”), was touring New Zealand. With a bestseller behind her and a second one offered, she ought to’ve been on high of the world; as a substitute she was close to its literal backside, mourning a venture, a reimagining of Mary McCarthy’s “The Group,” that had “simply died on me.”

Exiting the Auckland airport, Shipstead encountered a statue of Kiwi aviator Jean Batten, one arm clutching flowers, the opposite reaching for the sky. The plaque on the base learn: “I used to be destined to be a wanderer.” Shipstead didn’t begin “Nice Circle” till two years after seeing the statue, as soon as she was settled in Los Angeles. However Batten’s slogan would encourage the primary line of “Nice Circle.”

Maggie Shipstead stands before a cargo plane in the snow.

Maggie Shipstead on the Greenland ice sheet.

(Maggie Shipstead)

The epic follows the lifetime of American aviator Marian Graves, who disappears in 1950 throughout a harrowing circumnavigation of the globe over the North and South Poles. Marian’s story is interspersed with dispatches from Hollywood in 2014, the place Hadley Baxter, a starlet who was caught dishonest on her boyfriend/costar from a “Twilight”-like franchise, has been solid to play Graves in a prestigious indie — step considered one of her inevitable comeback.

Hadley and Marian each are constrained by their respective eras’ expectations of their gender. When Hadley refuses to maintain up the fan-fiction fantasy, she’s fired, swarmed by paparazzi and left to rehabilitate her picture. Whereas selecting via the wreckage of her private life, the actor turns into engrossed within the thriller of Graves’ finish.

Writing about Hollywood as an outsider (albeit one who grew up close by) posed challenges for Shipstead. How would she keep away from all of the clichés — the temperamental auteur director, the insecure ingenue? On one degree, the trade “is mundane,” Shipstead stated. “There’s a lot about it that’s dumb and boring, however then it’s additionally precisely what you assume.” The enjoyable half was utilizing the tales we all know — of abusers and casting couches — to “swerve off into a special course.”

Book jacket for "Great Circle" by Maggie Shipstead.

E-book jacket for “Nice Circle” by Maggie Shipstead.


Hadley, who began as a peppy baby actress, vaguely desires of profitable an Oscar, the final word affirmation. Marian, however, is meant to go away her fascination with airplanes behind together with her free-range Montana childhood. Her actual function is to marry and lift infants, regardless of her apathy-then-terror of each. When she lastly learns to fly — a favor granted at a steep emotional price — she experiences an exhilarating freedom she’ll by no means know every other method.

Aloft, she additionally brushes with dying: “She circles and circles. The chilly wind on her face feels as sharp and violent as glass shards. Her arms are so heavy; she will be able to barely work her ft on the rudder. Nobody will ever discover her. Nobody will even know the place to look.”

Later, reflecting on that harmful outing, and the compromises she’ll make to her benefactor: “Does she remorse the flight? She decides she doesn’t. She would have peered out of the cockpit and into one thing bottomless and unfathomable eventually. In some unspecified time in the future, she would have discovered the sting of her personal braveness. There may be nothing for it however to regulate, be humbled. So she is just not precisely who she had thought. So what. She will likely be somebody totally different.”

A horse looks across a field at a snow-capped mountain.

Maggie Shipstead’s view from horseback in Torres del Paine, Chile.

(Maggie Shipstead)

Shipstead grew to become somebody totally different too. A 12 months into writing “Nice Circle,” she began freelancing for Journey + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and different retailers that despatched her to the identical polar areas Graves would discover. Shipstead swam with humpback whales, realized to scuba dive and went spearfishing with chef José Andrés. Her newfound bravery (or quite her tolerance of worry) uncovered her to “risk-takers who’ve the talents to outlive and thrive in actually harsh environments,” usually lone-wolf varieties. She studied them up shut, even had affairs with a number of — together with one she wrote about for the New York Occasions.

Although Shipstead by no means realized to fly herself (she went up in all types of plane, together with a 1927-vintage Journey Air 6000, the identical airplane Marian cuts her enamel on), she aligned together with her predominant character in additional necessary methods. “I’ve turn out to be much less and fewer home. I used to be by no means motivated by kids however now I’m more and more much less motivated even by relationships.” She’s undecided who felt it first — character or creator. “That a part of me fed that a part of her. However then the extra I wrote about her, the extra that fed into me. It grew to become a suggestions loop.”

Author Maggie Shipstead’s photo of Greenland

Writer Maggie Shipstead’s picture of Greenland, from considered one of her travels. The bestselling novelist Maggie Shipstead had depicted elite worlds, however for the globe-spanning “Nice Circle,” she needed to turn out to be a solo adventurer.

(Maggie Shipstead/Maggie Shipstead)

When Shipstead’s singlehood comes up together with her associates, “They’ll say, ‘However you’re at all times gone,’ or ‘You’re so busy!’ It’s meant kindly, nevertheless it’s meant as an excuse and I don’t assume I would like an excuse.” The individuals she met alongside the best way to ending “Nice Circle” taught her that solo adventuring doesn’t need to be a ready room for “actual” (as in coupled) life: “You meet extra individuals who stay their lives this fashion and someway it begins to look extra attainable.”

For her subsequent e book, Shipstead will ease up on the throttle. “I’m writing one thing totally different that doesn’t require any form of feat,” she stated. However she continues to be occupied with testing her limits. “I’ve been making an attempt for 3 years to do that actually lengthy, 270-mile hike that begins within the Swedish Arctic. I can’t clarify precisely why I wish to do it. I’m positive it’d be depressing, in a method.” However like Marian, Shipstead feels she has no alternative. Her function isn’t to take a seat at house, secure however bored. “I actually wish to see issues. I discover myself chasing surprise, particularly on the pure world. That a part of me is right here to remain.”

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