Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Who Occupies This House"

Kathleen Hill teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her novel Still Waters in Niger was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was short-listed for the Prix Femina √Čtranger. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Who Occupies This House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
... what she wasn’t sure of was whether she had remembered to tell Lillian what she knew she had told her so many times before . . . that the twins must be left at the top of the stairs until the carriage was at the bottom – there weren’t very many steps, it wouldn’t take a minute – but perhaps that had been the problem, Lillian had decided only a step or two, what can be the harm and on such a hot day and the park just on the other side of the street waiting for them all cool trees and lovely shaded walks, that’s what Lillian may have been thinking. But however that may have been she could in no way imagine how it was that she, the twin’s own mother, had perhaps forgotten to remind Lillian – she didn’t know if in fact she had done so – but even if she had reminded her once, then she should have reminded her a second time, should never have forgotten, not ever, when Lillian went with the twins down the elevator and out, should have spoken to her, instructed her to stay with the twins at the top of the steps and ask Michael at the door to lift the carriage onto the sidewalk.
Page 69 appears in the middle of a section that – according to a writer friend – “unlocks” the novel. The narrator has been circling the figure of her grandmother, Deirdre, who died when she was in her forties, died of grief, the narrator believes, never recovering from the death of one of her infant twins who’d fallen from a carriage onto the steps of the building where they lived in New York City. The narrator has been trying to summon the living figure of Deirdre through the journals she left behind, the empty spaces she vacated.

In this section the narrator crosses the line and plunges directly into the interior life of Deirdre. Begins telling the story from her point of view.

On page 69 Deirdre is circling obsessively round and round the events leading up to the accident, the moment just before it when Lillian, the twins’ nurse, takes the twins out in their carriage. Deirdre is trying to establish in her own mind if she is responsible for the fall, trying to remember if she in fact on that day specifically remembered to ask Lillian to remove the twins safely from the carriage before taking it down the steps. If Deirdre did forget, then her own inner court finds her guilty.

The fall is central to the story of Who Occupies This House, affecting the lives not only of Deirdre but of her remaining children. It is the fall that inspires the family to leave the scene of the accident and to move to the house in Pelham where the narrator will be born years later. A house where four generations of a family of Irish–Americans, originating in the lost children of the Famine, will work out their own histories of deprivation and self–blame and forgiveness.
Visit the official website of Kathleen Hill.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue