Friday, May 29, 2009


Jean Hanff Korelitz was raised in New York City and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels A Jury of Her Peers (1996), The Sabbathday River (1999), and The White Rose (2005), as well as a children’s novel, Interference Powder (2003) and a book of poems, The Properties of Breath (1988).

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Admission, and reported the following:
But even sitting there, half the world away, without even laying eyes on him, he was already mine. Just because someone had told me so. Just like that. I didn’t even have a snapshot.”

“And you felt the same way when you got back to Uganda and met him?”

“Yes. Absolutely. I picked him up out of the basket, and I didn’t put him down for the next three years, basically.”

They lay without talking for a few minutes. Cars whooshed and groaned up the road outside the hotel. Once, a flap flap of footsteps sounded down the hall outside.

“Does he ever ask about his biological parents?” Portia said.

“Actually, no. I’ve always wondered about that. I’ve always wondered why he wasn’t more curious. He’s never asked me to take him back, to find a cousin or an aunt or a sibling. Somebody. He never seemed interested. And I never suggested it. Maybe I’m afraid of it, I don’t know.”

“You shouldn’t be. I’m sure you’re a wonderful father.”

“Thank you,” he said. He sounded actually moved. “We all make it up as we go along. I’m sure the biological dads are just as clueless.”

“I guess,” she smiled. “Though my mom always acted as if she knew she was doing.”

“Well, that’s what matters. It’s what experienced teachers always tell new teachers.
Act like you know what you’re talking about. We all do it. Then, one day, we magically realize that we do, actually, know what we’re talking about.”

In the darkness, she nodded, not for him but for herself. Maybe everything was like that, she thought. She remembered the first years along her own odd career trajectory, fudging statistics when asked, trying to act as if she understood the strange and unwieldy behemoth that was college admissions, reading its runes to glean some semblance of logic when there was little logic. Whim and art, she would tell herself, as if that made up for not knowing what she was doing. And then, one day, she realized that she did, in fact, know what she was doing. She just didn’t really know why.

Page 69 of Admission consists, essentially, of pillow talk. The protagonist, Portia Nathan, who is an admissions officer at Princeton University, has just unexpectedly fallen into bed with a stranger, albeit a stranger who attended college with her sixteen years earlier. Now, in the aftermath of this rather alarming event, they are actually getting to know each other a bit, and John (the stranger in question) is talking about the son he adopted in Uganda a decade earlier. It’s interesting that this excerpt – randomly chosen as it is – does manage to circle around to two of the major themes of the novel: the question of what actually connects us to our children, and the fact that Portia, as an admissions officer in charge of making life-altering decisions about thousands of bright, capable and deserving teenagers per year, has never felt deserving of such power over their lives.
Read an excerpt from Admission, and learn more about the book and author at Jean Hanff Korelitz's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue