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'Dixon, Descending' explores the aftermath of a Mount Everest climbing attempt

The cover of "Dixon Descending" and author Karen Outen. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House and Shala W. Graham)
The cover of "Dixon Descending" and author Karen Outen. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House and Shala W. Graham)

With this year’s climbing season underway, the beauty and danger of Mount Everest is on display.

It’s the topic of Karen Outen’s debut novel “Dixon, Descending.” The story centers on Nate and Dixon, two brothers who set out to summit Mount Everest with no prior climbing experience.

Nate is the more daring of the two and first floats the idea to Dixon — a former champion runner and athlete — saying the pair would be the first Black American men to summit the mountain.

Outen says that while the brother’s push-and-pull relationship is a main feature of the book, Mount Everest looms large as a central plot driver. Outen says the mountain has long been inspirational to her.

“I feel like Everest chose me. I am not a climber. I am not a hiker. I’m not particularly athletic,” she says. “This character kind of appeared to me. And I saw him standing. I could tell something had happened to him. He was gaunt. He looked bruised. He was limping. And as I started to explore the character, I realized he’d come back from Mount Everest.”

That character became Dixon. And his story spans not only his climb but, as the title suggests, his descent back down. Outen says she wanted to examine what happens when people attempt such a massive feat.

“What really happens for Dixon is that being on the mountain changes his sense of self,” Outen says. “He discovers things about himself and coming back down. He’s descending from his lofty idea of who he is. So his interactions when he gets home are different.”

Book excerpt: ‘Dixon, Descending’

By Karen Outen

From “Dixon, Descending” by Karen Outen, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2024 by Karen Outen.


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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