Monday, March 17, 2008

"Map of Ireland"

Stephanie Grant is an award-winning writer whose first novel, The Passion of Alice, was longlisted for Britain's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. She has taught creative writing at Ohio State University and Mount Holyoke College and is currently Visiting Writer at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Map of Ireland, and reported the following:
Excerpt from p. 69:

I had to ask myself -- was it possible? -- if Mademoiselle Eugenie had feelings for me. Just thinking that thought, I felt this revving inside, like an engine that wouldn't stop, like a conveyor belt I couldn't get on or off. It was thrilling sure, but it was also, I didn't know, unsettling. Did she feel the revving too? I mean, I knew I was just some stupid kid, but stranger things had happened, hadn't they? (In English class, they hammered us again and again with Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets.) That time, when we'd spoken in school, Mademoiselle Eugenie had tipped her head back and laughed, and I'd seen all her teeth. I knew then it was a kind of gift. The shared laugh, but also, the open mouth: the pink roof and the beautiful, straight, white teeth.


Like most novels, Map of Ireland is about many things and it feels strange, even false, at times, to articulate precisely what the subject of the novel is. It's set during the desegregation of the public schools in Boston in 1974, and is a girl's coming of age story. Often I use this simple description of time and place and genre to suggest to readers what they'll find: race and sexuality, the struggle for identity, a white girl's coming into her own moral adulthood. But this passage on p. 69 suggests that the novel is also about intimacy between black folks and white folks. Physical intimacy -- emotional intimacy -- the intimacy of friendship -- and sexual intimacy. (Segregation's purpose, after all, is to prevent intimacy at all costs.) The novel's narrator Ann Ahern has not yet learned to hide her noticing of black people's bodies and gestures and speech. She is keenly aware of racial difference, and she remarks on it frankly throughout the novel. I think Ann is rather surprised to discover how intensely she wants intimacy with black people, and surprised, too, by the power of that intimacy .... "it was a kind of gift."
Read an excerpt from Map of Ireland, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Stephanie Grant from her bio at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.

--Marshal Zeringue