Saturday, May 2, 2009

"The Turtle Catcher"

Nicole Helget grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Helget applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Turtle Catcher, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Turtle Catcher introduces the burgeoning love of Herman Richter and Betty Mathiowetz, the doctor's daughter. Herman thinks to impress Betty by presenting her with a dead bird. He's twelve. Together, they study this animal and decide that they love each other.

I began my writing career by writing about my dead dogs. I don't know that there's any topic so universal (I see this story in its various forms appear in my students' papers every year) than our first experiences with death. For those of us who are lucky, these stories are about animals rather than people. But, even as my writing life evolves, I find I'm still obsessed with the lives and deaths of animals, probably because I grew up on a real farm. I've taken some heat for my "brutal" look at animal life, but I'm not deterred by those criticisms. People are so unaware (my pet's sick or dying, so I think I'll whisk it off to the vet to be humanely put to sleep) and so far removed from their food sources (what lovely packaging on this frozen chicken and how nice that the innards have been cleaned or removed!) that they have the luxury of judging without knowing what animal suffering, animal death, decomposition, or butchering really looks like. I do. When I eat beef, I’m aware that the protein comes from an animal. I’ve gone back and forth about vegetarianism. I am truly bothered by the ways in which animals are now bred, housed, and butchered since small farms such as the one I grew up on have been eliminated by big argribusinesses who couldn’t give two shits about the quality of animals’ lives and haven’t yet made the connection between the quality of the animals’ lives and the quality of the meat.

So, while I figure this out in my personal life, when I do eat meat, I try to buy and eat consciously, with an educated purse and a grateful mind and appetite. In work like The Turtle Catcher, if the only thing sections about animals do for readers is make them aware, then I’m happy with that, even if it turns the reader’s stomach. I'm really not interested in romaniticizing any part of the human condition or animal condition with pretty packaging.
Read an excerpt from The Turtle Catcher, and learn more about the book and author at Nicole Helget's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue