Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"A Curable Romantic"

Joseph Skibell is the author of the novels A Blessing on the Moon, The English Disease, and the newly published A Curable Romantic. He has received a Halls Fiction Fellowship, a Michener Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, among other awards. He teaches at Emory University and is the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature.

He applied the Page 69 Test to A Curable Romantic and reported the following:
It pained me that my marriage would be so different from my parents’, whose courtship, by all accounts, had been a storybook affair.
Usually I concentrate so intently on my work that I have no memory of actually doing it. This isn’t true for page 69 of my novel A Curable Romantic. I remember exactly where I was when I wrote it. I was living in Talpiot, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, in a sun-washed apartment on Shalom Yehuda Street, not far from S.Y. Agnon’s old house.

I’d run away from home basically, though not really. I was teaching a short semester at Bar-Ilan with my wife’s blessing. Our daughter was in school, and we couldn’t afford to uproot the entire family – we needed my wife’s salary – and so I’d come alone. This was in the fall of 2003, and I probably hadn’t lived alone in over 20 years. It felt good to be on my own halfway across the world. It’s an experience I’d recommend to every middle-aged man.
Everyone knew that Father had been a sickly youth, so sickly, in fact, that no one had expected him to live. … Forbidden by his doctors to attend school, he’d developed an invalid’s propensity for study and dedicated the long hours in bed to the Talmud. Eventually his enormous learning entitled him, as was customary at that time and in that society, to the most covetable of rewards: a bride of his choice.
Page 69 is part of my protagonist Dr. Y.Y. Sammelsohn’s childhood recollections of his family’s history. Maybe it was the happiness I felt living in Jerusalem – despite the fact that I was there during the second intifada – but the work just seemed to open up. All three of my novels are written in the first person, but, here, something is different; here, though he has a personal stake in the events he’s describing, Dr. Sammelsohn hasn’t experienced those events personally.
By seventeen, despite his ill health, Father had conceived a burning desire to marry. None of the local girls would have him, of course… Partly to protect his pride and partly out of a fear of girls natural to an innocent young man, he was scrupulously forthright when it came to his courting, and naturally enough, the long line of maidens that paraded through my grandparents’ parlor took one look at this scrofulous hairball of a boy, coughed up, it seemed, by an ailing cat, and remembered more pressing engagements elsewhere.

Many, I’m told, ran from the room without a word.
Though intimate and familiar with his characters, Dr. Sammelsohn hasn’t even been born yet. With the narrator both present and absent, somehow the language of the section – I recall it happening – took on a playful, luscious, almost Agnon-like sense of freedom.
Father endeavored to remain philosophical – God must have His reasons for visiting this plague of horrified girls upon him – but the rejection took its toll, and his parents despaired. Grandmother Sammelsohn cried, wringing her hands and pulling at her marriage wig. This bride-hunting was too much for her baby’s delicate constitution. The family physician and the family rabbi concurred. “The strain on his heart might prove mortal,” Dr. Kirschbaum announced. “Though a
I’d like to write my next novel entirely from this perspective, I think. I’d like to write it in Jerusalem, that troubled city, in a sun-washed apartment, in Talpiot perhaps, breathing in the air that S. Y. Agnon breathed out.
Read more about A Curable Romantic and visit Joseph Skibell's website.

Writers Read: Joseph Skibell.

--Marshal Zeringue