The opening pages of Leah Stewart’s new novel, The History of Us, features an illustrated map with various Cincinnati landmarks and locations: Northside, the Museum Center, Mount Adams, Music Hall, Cheviot, the Cincinnati Ballet, Over-the-Rhine and more. The map is just the first sign that the Queen City will play prominently in a narrative that centers on Eloise Hempel, the 45-year-old chair of the history department at the fictional Wyatt University; a woman who, 17 years earlier, was forced to leave her teaching gig at Harvard to return to a hometown she thought she left behind for a seemingly bigger and more satisfying life.
Stewart uses this premise to investigate the peculiar pull Cincinnati has on its citizens, a place where “you could make a virtue of grittiness, take pride in not living in some cleaner, wealthier, wussier city.” The author — whose previous novels include The Myth of You and Me and Husband and Wife — will discuss The History of Us at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Free. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2692 Madison Road, Norwood. 513-396-8960, josephbeth.com.