Monday, March 5, 2007

"Self Storage"

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Dictionary Poems, and The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel, which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change.

Her new novel, Self Storage, was published in January.

Gayle put her new novel to the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
It's hard for me to look at my own work once it is set in print. I find myself wanting to change things around, to slice unnecessary words, smooth out bumpy lines. My heart sank a bit when I realized what was on page 69 of Self Storage; that page always felt somewhat awkward to me. —I can remember struggling to make it flow; it still feels kind of choppy. I remember being unsure about using “tonight” at the end of the sentence: “Her bath was going to be a particular challenge tonight.” I had thought “that night” might be more accurate, but somehow I ended up with “tonight”.

Aside from word choice, the scene is actually quite representative of the novel. Prior to this scene, my character Flan bid on a single box at a self storage auction; the inside of the box was elaborately painted but empty, except for the word “YES” on a slip of paper. This word launches Flan on a quest to discover what makes her say YES in her life; it also leads her to Julia, the artist who painted the box.

In looking online into Julia's potential new life as a Buddhist nun, Flan is starting to look outside her own life as a young mother for meaning. She is also realizing that that when she takes a moment for herself -- —whether through the computer (or, later in the book, a stolen moment with her husband) -- chaos often reigns, like corn silk flung all over the kitchen. The tension between Flan wanting more to her life than motherhood and wanting to keep her family whole and safe figures throughout the novel, so this page offers its own little microcosm.

Page 69:

The stalks of Pia's corn were papery and dry next to the lush abundance of the rest of her crops. The corn silk poofing out from the husks looked like monks' top knots. I ran my hands over the damp strands and thought of Julia. I decided to open up the painted box and tack it to the wall of my auction room.

When we got back to the house, I set the grubby kids on the kitchen floor so they could shuck the corn, with a paper grocery bag for the husks and a plate for the cleaned ears. I had planned to shuck, myself, but felt compelled to log on to Shae's kitchen computer instead. I hoped he wouldn't mind; I usually only used my computer in the auction room. I had a burning desire to look up the Zen Center website and to see what Julia's life would be like there.

The practice was very regimented—: wake up at 3 a.m., chant at 3:30, meditate at 4:15, have breakfast at 6:30, do work practice (cooking, sewing, plumbing, office work, etc.) at 8, have lunch at noon, more work practice at 2, dinner at 5:45, meditate at 7, retire at 9. The monks online all wore black robes, but not all of them were bald. None of the women were bald. Why had Julia asked me to shave her head if it wasn't required?

When I finally looked up, corn silk was everywhere. The slippery strands covered the floor in an even jumble; they hugged the legs of the dinette chairs, were plastered against the metal sink cabinets, and thoroughly woven into Nori's hair, which looked like corn silk to begin with. Her bath was going to be a particular challenge tonight.
Read an excerpt from Self Storage.

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