Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"The Age of Ice"

J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University of Washington, where she studies cellular biology of aging and carcinogenesis.

Sidorova applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Age of Ice, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The Science of Cold


Ice is a chrysalis of degradation. The first coat of ice, when it forms on a live creature, is paper thin and translucent; it humbly repeats every curve and crease of the creature’s body. It could be just a second skin, a molting layer. It could, one fancies, reveal a beauteous metamorphosis when shed—a firebird, an angel. However, ice is never shed. It thickens, instead, not a skin now but a cocoon; no longer humble, it soon abandons any resemblance to the creature it covered. A lump, a rock, it joins with other rocks; a sheet, a glacier; it never releases those it had captured. I dreamed of Anna. I touched her bare shoulders only to feel the first skin of ice under my fingers. It terrified me, because it was I who infected her with ice.

And yet. Abductive reasoning is, I believe, what they would call it years later. Faced with a surprising observation, a mind won’t rest until it conjures a cause from which the observation follows necessarily and logically. That the cause itself may be an oddity is a different matter; besides, given enough time we can construct a whole chain of causes, each progressively less unusual. Thus: why had I been so bizarre on the road to Orenburg? Because I had suffered a temporary debilitation of mind. And why had I suffered such a condition? Due to emotional distress, of course! There was nothing outrageously unusual about any of it, it had no connection to my cold, and it was obviously a onetime ailment, after which I must have developed some sort of tolerance, not unlike a smallpox vaccination.

I truly wanted to believe this. Even when I’d wake up in a sickly gray predawn light, my fingertips still tingling after a dream of having touched Anna’s ice-coated shoulders. Even when I would leave “my” bank of the Neva, the imperial and military bank, with its Winter Palace, its collegiums, its barracks of the Guard, and wander across the bridge to Vasilievsky Island, where a small building of the Academy of Sciences had made its home.
Page 69 happens to be the opening page of the fourth chapter of the novel. It sets the stage for the chapter. Stylistically, it is a reasonable stand-in for the book, and emotionally, it is a fair representation of the narrator’s condition for the next decade or so of his life. Also in this page, one sees an example of obsession with ice typical of the narrator, and the struggle between rational and magical in which his mind is forced to engage.
Learn more about the book and author at J.M. Sidorova's website, blog and the Scribner website.

--Marshal Zeringue